A story broke a few days ago in the news that a teen girl with Down Syndrome is suing a celebrity over a bullying social media post that included her photo. The celebrity refused to remove the offending meme. In addition, CBS showed the picture. The girl is now suing the celebrity and CBS. Our question today: Can someone be a bully and not know it? Or does he simply not care?
The celebrity involved in this case is Val Chmerkovskiy, a professional dancer on the television show Dancing with the Stars. Chmerkovskiy is being sued by a 16-year-old girl with Down Syndrome for $6 million. CBS News is also being sued for $6 million because they re-tweeted the meme. The photographer who took the picture used to create the meme is also being sued for $600,000.
The meme in question was posted about three weeks before the suit was filed. The photo showed the overweight girl drinking a large soda, with the caption, “Letting your kid become obese should be considered child abuse.” The photo was taken in 2008 at a baseball game. It was published and went viral first in 2014 with the caption, “Everything that’s wrong with America.”
It should be noted that some level of obesity is common in persons with Down Syndrome. Further, many medications increase the propensity to obesity in anyone.
The girl’s mother managed to contact Chmerkovskiy and “begged” him to remove the meme, which was shared initially with his 365,000 Facebook followers. She eventually persuaded him to remove the meme. When he deleted the post he said, “I have no desire to discriminate or shame. I just think people should have a little more knowledge and take more responsibility when it comes to their children’s diet. That’s all. It’s not about what I find beautiful or not, it’s about what’s healthy or not. Anyway, thank you.”
Chmerkovskiy has built a reputation for visiting sick children in hospitals. When information about the suit became public, he posted this comment on social media: “Worry about your character, not your reputation. Your character is who you are. Your reputation is who people think you are.”
This incident raises a plethora of questions, and we would like to know what you think. Is Chmerkovskiy’s post a case of bullying? Can Val Chmerkovskiy be a bully and not know it?
There are also larger issues here: Our society has a dim view of anyone who disrespects a child. Children are viewed as innocent in that they cannot fight for themselves or defend themselves. By using this photo, isn’t Chmerkovskiy victimizing the child for the purpose of making a point and promoting his cause? Our society has always held that it is not acceptable to exploit someone in order to make your point. Knowing the reach of a “celebrity” post on social media (particularly a child, and a child with special needs), where do we draw the line? Ultimately, isn’t this exactly what Isis does?
Chime in. Tell us what you think.