When It Goes Viral, Is Justice Really Served?

Facebook page serves justice for AvaLynn, a Mississippi child allegedly beaten by another student.

Facebook page serves justice for AvaLynn, a Mississippi child allegedly beaten by another student.

With the rise of social media, we see platforms like Facebook and Twitter being used to generate awareness of social issues. A popular cause most people have likely seen in the past few weeks is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which originated in the U.S. this June, after the challenge was televised on the Golf Channel before moving to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube (Levin 2014).

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Mother daughter embrace ALS Ice Bucket Challenge together

However, a new cause will likely be trending soon…

Friday August 29, 2014, photos of a Mississippi girl named AvaLynn went viral on Facebook and Twitter after she was beaten by another student on her school playground, Arlington Elementary School in the Pascagoula school district. The mother, Lacey Harris, believes that her child was punched despite the school district saying saying she hurt herself falling on the playground.

A Facebook page “Justice for AvaLynn,” was created along with a GoFundMe page that already raised about $1,000 (Phillips 2014). The page features gruesome photos of her injuries including a swollen face, black eye, and damaged cheek and nose (The West Australian 2014). On Twitter, hashtags are being used to get the word out about the cause. These hashtags trending include: #Justice4AvaLynn and #JusticeForAvaLynn (Phillips 2014).

The goal of the page was stated by the administrator: “We’re trying to spread word far and wide about what has happened to AvaLynn, and to get the media involved as much as possible, in order to force the school district to take action for what has happened” (The West Australian 2014). Social media critics say that accounts on Instagram, Reddit, and Tumblr should be made. However, I checked these sites and the photos had moved viral there too, showing how fast social media passes information along.

Justice for AvaLynn on Reddit.

Justice for AvaLynn on Reddit.

Justice for AvaLynn on Tumblr.

Justice for AvaLynn on Tumblr.

With the increase in awareness, another hashtag went popular on Twitter: #AvaLynn and people seem to be constantly tweeting about this horrible event –

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These social media sites are valuable tools for creating awareness, but why?

Twitter hashtags “aggregate a conversation surround an event, topic, or theme,” which makes it searchable. It is a way of bonding with followers and other users. Luttrell (2014) states that Twitter is used to raise money for charities and benevolent causes…and has been a critical component to spread awareness about social issues especially because it has more than 500 million active viewers.

Facebook has more than one billion people using it and more than 665 million active daily users with the intention of promoting openness and connectivity throughout its users and the world while being able to share content and interact with the content. Facebook, like in this case, allows businesses, causes, artists, brands, and products to create a brand page where a culture can be established in order for people to interact and engage. The admins of the page can invite Facebook friends to like the page, and then those who like the page can also invite people and share the page, which spreads this buzz, making this tactic an easy, quick way to spread an idea, like with this case of AvaLynn.

Social media’s impact and value is described using different themes. Engagement and conversation and influence are those that show up in this situation. Engagement includes “likes, comments, shares, votes, +1s, links, retweets, video views, content embeds, etc.” Conversation measures blog posts, comments, tweets, Facebook posts/comments, video posts, replies, etc.” Justice for AvaLynn has already generated a lot of engagement and conversation as all of these social media sites listed above have shown. Influence is the “ability to cause or contribute to a change in opinion or behavior.” However, influence cannot be determined quite yet because there has not been an outcome like the cause’s goal is hoping for. It is too early to see if this cause and the buzz it has generated will get schools to increase their supervision and it still is not known the cause of AvaLynn’s injuries or if the school district has taken any action yet. This cause is calling for advocacy though, which is an “act of pleading or making the case for something” (Lutrell 2014). What might come out of this besides raising money for the child, is an increased awareness of school violence, possible petitions for more supervision, or some kind of protection policies within schools.

One interesting idea that came out of this viral cause and an article about image sharing is that photos are a great tool for social media users, advertisers, and PR professionals because they allow a story to be told that might not have been able to be accomplished throughout other mediums. However this tool could also be used against its users.

Advertisers are able to use photos shared by social media users for its own gain through social media business models (were businesses pay social media sites to use their photos), which raises problems of privacy for the social media users. Users share more than 1.8 billion photos daily and this is so valuable to advertisers because it reveals how consumers act (Lee 2014).

Users are not always aware that the information they post can be used for companies generating revenue and a lot are not comfortable with that. Market researchers believe that “if you are a user of a free service, you have to understand how that service is generating revenue, and if you are not comfortable with that, then you should not be using the service” (Lee 2014).

While this is true, photos could also be used for the wrong purposes. For instance with Justice for AvaLynn, her gruesome photos were uploaded onto the Facebook cause page, and from there shared with millions of Internet uses throughout other social media platforms. Her photo’s purpose was to create awareness of school violence and negligence and to even raise money for her cause because photos evoke more emotion. But what if advertisers used her photo for the wrong reason?

In a recent case, a girl posted an Instagram picture of herself with a guy in a Jack Daniel’s shirt. A company called Ditto Labs scanned her photo for its use in sharing its information with the brand in order to collect information about its use: essentially a real-time focus group. It does not inform the social media users that it takes their photos, which upsets many users (Lee 2014).

Ditto Labs.

Ditto Labs.

In AvaLynn’s case, what if another advocacy group used her photo to promote their cause or business and generate money for child abuse or sexual assault — issues totally unrelated to her case? It could take away from generating awareness for her specific situation and generating money for her cause and giving it to another, and it could cause embarrassment or other negative feelings and reminders for the family and those affected. Would justice really be served for AvaLynn if her story was used to promote something else?

Questions for students:

1. How do you feel about your photos uploaded on social media being used without your knowledge for companies and brands’ own benefit?

2. If you knew that your information was being used this way, would that change your social media habits?

3. How do you feel about viral photos and causes like the ones discussed in this post? Do they make you want to contribute any more or less? Do you think they make a difference in the cause or have any benefits?

4. Was justice served with Justice for AvaLynn?


Lee, Wendy. “Advertisers Seize on Images Shared by Social Media

Users.”SFGate. Hearst Communications, 30 Aug. 2014. Web.



Levin, Josh. “Who Invented the Ice Bucket Challenge? A Slate

Investigation.” Slate Magazine. The Slate Group, 22 Aug. 2014. Web.



Lutrell, Regina. Social Media: How to Engage, Share, and Connect. S.l.:

Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. Print.

Phillips, Jack. “AvaLynn Photos: ‘Justice for AvaLynn’ Pictures Go Viral; and

Mother Lacey Harris Seeking Answers Over Girl’s Alleged Beating.” The

            Epoch Times AvaLynn Photos Justice for AvaLynn Pictures Go Viral and

            Mother Lacey Harris Seeking Answers Over Girls Alleged Beating

Comments. Epoch Times, 29 Aug. 2014. Web.




Staff Reporter. “Mum Harnesses Social Media for Daughter.” Yahoo News The

            West Australian. Yahoo News, 1 Sept. 2014. Web.