Editor’s Note: This copy has been updated to reflect Rachel Graham has lost more than 90 pounds since 2015 rather than 2016.
Rachel Graham has taken to Instagram to share her inspirational weight loss journey, but along the way she says her image has been used by online diet companies.
“A lot of people started tagging me in them on Instagram or Facebook and messaging me the links to them,” said the 24-year-old Nova Scotia woman, who says she’s encountered a number of online advertisements using her photos to sell fad diet programs and weight loss pills.
“I’ve gotten a few messages with different Twitter accounts that are now pretending to be me using my pictures, using my pictures of my children even, saying that’s how I lost weight … by using the products they’re selling. And I guess people are buying them.”
Since June 2015, Graham has lost more than 90 pounds and has been documenting her progress on her Instagram account. Her account has quickly gained online notoriety for the many before and after photos, meal ideas and fitness motivation. As of Tuesday, she has more than 192,000 followers.
As someone who has struggled with getting in shape in the past, Graham said it’s frustrating to see her image being used to promote unhealthy weight loss products.
“It makes me pretty angry, honestly,” said Graham, adding despite her best efforts to report these advertisements and fake pages to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, more keep popping up.
“It seems like they’re constantly coming out with the new advertisements, like too many to keep up with anymore even. I don’t want the false information out there about how I lost weight.”
The real method, according to Graham, is a healthy diet, frequent exercise and a balanced lifestyle.
“For so long I didn’t think it was possible. I’ve tried so many things over the years. I have tried pills and all these different gimmicks you see online,” Graham said. “I want it to be known that it is possible to lose weight the healthy way.”
Legal protection possible, not easy
Halifax-based privacy lawyer David Fraser says although there are laws to protect people’s online image, it is sometimes difficult to enforce.
“Often platform providers like Facebook and Instagram will quickly take that content down, but that only gets you part of the way there because anybody can create a fake account and it’ll pop up again and again,” Fraser said.
He said while it is possible to engage in litigation and sue the people involved, there is often a hefty price tag when it comes to tracking down online companies.
“I’ve heard of cases where, for example, the company that was involved in it was in China. It’s expensive enough and laborious enough to sue someone who’s in your own city so doing something like that internationally can get extremely expensive and extremely messy,” said Fraser.
“While I hesitate to say that this is just part of the reality and you should accept it, I think overall, although you do have legal rights you can pursue, the cost of doing so is often very prohibitive.
Fraser said people still own the copyright to content once it is posted online, but suggested adding distinctive watermarks to original photos can prevent others from using it for their own purposes.