Jan 092014

WHOA! Without my knowledge, I have become the face of a restaurant advertisement in West Africa?!

Late last night I received a shocking message from my friend Alicia, who had been traveling in Africa. “Lillie!” the message read, Flying down the street in the car on my way to Bojo Beach in Ghana, we passed this sign. I screamed out loud, ‘I KNOW THAT GIRL!’ Are you aware that you are the face of the Synagogue Restaurant in Accra, Ghana?!”

I gasped and clicked open the photo. Sure enough, there I was:

Yup, that's me on a restaurant advertisement in Ghana.

Yup, that’s me on a restaurant advertisement in Ghana.

Ahhh! Whoever was behind this restaurant (maybe someone who knows my coworkers during the months I taught in Ghana, or maybe someone who randomly Googled something like “Jewish girl in Ghana”) got their mitts on the lead photo from this article that I wrote in 2010 about how much I adore Ghanaian food, modified it, and put me as the unknowing model on a highway billboard. Zowie!

So what to do? How to react? My emotions have swirled from aghast, to flattered, to weirded out, to giggly. I mean, who opens a restaurant called “Synagogue” in Ghana?? There are more icicles in Ghana than there are Jews! Now, however, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

1. Yes, I will investigate. I have some theories about how this came to be, and have deployed my chums in West Africa to investigate. I shall keep you posted on what I find! That said…

2. Face it: Things like this happen in 2014. This is a wake-up call– isn’t it?– to all folks who use the internet: Try as you might, your images are not always under your control. Hence my constant warning to my students to never post anything inappropriate. Unauthorized use of images is far more rampant than we think, given how widely people (not just bloggers) share photos, and how powerful internet image searches and photo manipulation tools are. Sure, one can try to guard photos through watermarking, but it would hardly have helped in this instance due to cropping. Yet, at the end of the day…

3. Don’t kill the beauty of the internet and our connected world due to paranoia. I COULD react to this episode by shutting down my whole website and vast social media empire, erasing any image of myself I could find online, and running screaming into my son’s whale-shaped bathtub to never come out again, but… no thanks. I will continue to use my best judgment about what and how I post photos and facts online, and I will continue to do my best to stop anyone pirating or plagiarizing my work, but I refuse to be squashed by paranoia. In this case, the offender appears to be a small Mom-and-Pop restaurant in West Africa that is likely not making big bucks off my lovely grin. Moreover…

4. Let’s not be hypocrites. The issue is not just that a photo that is my property was used without permission, but that my FACE has been gazed at in a commercial context, without my knowledge, by many folks across the ocean. However, let’s put this into perspective. Look at the website of any travel blogger or social media user (myself included) and you’ll find images of local people who have no idea they’re being seen by thousands around the world. These female manual laborers in India haven’t a clue that my article about them has been seen by over 3,000 readers, globally. Even the fanciest newspapers practice this voyeurism. We humans are fascinated by people who don’t look like us, and we love using the images of others (the “Other,” as defined by Edward Said, for you fellow literary theory geeks out there) to produce an exotic international effect. Synagogue Restaurant in Ghana simply wanted to show that exotic foreigners delight in their food. And given my obsession with fufu, I likely would!

5. Celebrity solidarity. Suddenly I get a tiny slice of how actual celebrities must feel to see their image splashed hither and thither, completely unauthorized. How many instances of it can they actually fight? What is the emotional impact on one’s face essentially becoming public property, as has happened with so many celebs? Heck– when I wrote this article while in Ghana in 2010 about how fun it was to see Obama‘s picture on school notebooks and cafe signs, I didn’t think twice about the legal or personal repercussions!

6. If you’re doing something naughty, you will likely be caught. I always tell my students that plagiarizers always get caught eventually. It may not be until they’ve been up to their evil tricks for decades, but the truth always seems to come out. Thus I am both flabbergasted by and embracing of the ridiculous coincidence that a friend I met in Philadelphia happened to stumble across a violation of my website’s copyright rules from the window of a speeding car over 5,000 miles away in West Africa!

Bottom line: This is one of the most bizarre instances to happen as a result of my blog, ever, and it raises some intense questions… but it’s also kind of funny. What’s YOUR take on this whole issue?


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  111 Responses to “My Face Is on a Restaurant Advertisement in Africa?!”

  1. This really is a complicated situation huh? Yes, your face has been stolen, and used illegally but is it really necessary to fuss over it? It’s just a small little restaurant trying to promote itself, and you do take pictures of other people too, to promote your website. The picture was wrong, yes, but it’s not going to be like anyone going to make memes, sayings, vines, mustaches about it, and other social media ways of making fun.

  2. This is so interesting, I would love to have my face on an ad! Ghana’s food looks delicious, and if I were to eat some, I would like my face to be on an advertisement! You’re famous, Mrs. Marshall!

  3. This is beyond cool!

  4. That would have surprised me to see my face on an advertisement!

  5. Cool! That a surprising discovery. And they didn’t ask if they could put it up? I’d love for someone to put my face on their restaurant menu. I’d feel like royalty because they put it on their menu. Although this article is unusual, I think it’s really cool!

  6. Hi Ms. Marshall. I started laughing when I saw this picture! I think you handled the situation with a great sense of humor. I think I would freak out if I saw my face on a billboard. Maybe when you visit Ghana, people will think you are famous. I enjoyed reading your article.

  7. Wow, crazy to think about that! You didn’t even know that you were on that sign. Great lesson as well!

  8. Wow! I would be so shocked to see my face on an advertisement.

  9. How can you just modestly post this online? If I was placed on a sign with no consent I would personally freak out! In a good way of course, this in mind makes you kind of famous. This article makes me jealous even though no one over there will know you. But still what an honor to be placed on a restaurant sign randomly! LUCKY!!!

  10. How interesting! I wouldn’t know what to do if that happened to me, but you seem to have handled it very well. Thank you for sharing Ms. Marshall!

  11. WOW! Think about it, what are the chances out of probably millions of pictures of people enjoying food, that yours got put up there. Really makes you think.

  12. I just had the same thing happen to me. Will you please e mail me. I would like to ask you how you handled it and I would like to tell you about my situation…

    Thank you…

  13. Wow that is so crazy how you got there! I’m very jealous!

  14. Hi Mrs. Marshall! I think it’s really cool yet odd that you were on a poster for that restaurant. I’d be really scared since I’m younger than you because I wouldn’t know how to handle it, but maybe it’s legal in Ghana to do that kind of stuff. My dad usually cooks food that looks like that but is a lot different because he makes Nigerian food. Hopefully next time you come you’ll be famous in Ghana!

  15. I thought your story was amazing! I like how you said “I will continue to use my best judgement about what and how I post photos and facts online, and I will continue to do my best to stop anyone pirating or plagiarizing my work, but I refuse to be squashed by paranoia.” I thought this part effects everyone in life like what they shouldn’t post and what they can post. Also I thought that you were really brave and calm about this situation that you never gave permission for. If I saw myself on a board, I would be really scared.

  16. I think it is very smart how you handled the situation and although you didn’t give permission to be on a billboard, you still got to be featured as a foreigner who enjoys Ghanaian food. This can show you a new perspective of how other people can learn how to protect their accounts or save photos from being put in random places. These helpful tips give us information on what to do to prevent a, (although cool) weird situation.

  17. I think you’re very lucky to have your picture on a billboard! This article has taught me that whatever you post on the internet is not always safe from others, and that you should be careful about what you post. I can’t imagine how you felt when you found out. Still, I found this article pretty funny!

  18. That is awesome… Sort of. They did use your face without permission and now everyone who passes by can see you. But the fact that you agreed to it is great because they didn’t really know who you were in the picture and they just wanted it for a sign that attracts others to come. I wonder… How many more customers did you attract?

  19. I like how you informed people that a lot of things on the internet can be controlled by others too. You didn’t even know that your face was on a billboard for a restaurant in Ghana! Instead of shutting down your website and hiding, you just made sure to be more careful on the internet. You gave great advise in a funny way!

  20. I think this was amazing because even though you didn’t know that you were going to appear on this billboard, it’s pretty cool how you became a small celebrity without you even knowing.

  21. I liked this particular article that you wrote because I learned that you have to be careful what you post. Also that people can use it for good or bad purposes.

  22. I found this hilarious! I guess you’re famous now! At least your advertising for something you like. Hope you get free food! :3

  23. I would be honored to be on a advertisement for food I love. But then again I find it extremely weird that they found you and just decided to do what they wanted and use your photo without permission. Is that even legal? I agree that nothing you post is truly yours.

  24. I really like your article! If that happened to me I wouldn’t know how to react. I would be proud to be on an advertisement but at the same time I would be annoyed/mad because I would want them to ask for my permission first.

  25. This is such a bizarre situation! The fact that you chose to accept the situation is wise because we often plagiarize ourselves, and this examples shows students that although we may think that the teachers aren’t paying close enough attention, the truth always comes out. Also, I liked the connection you made with celebrities because it shows the readers how people experience or react to something differently from another perspective.

  26. It’s really cool how you got to be on a billboard in Ghana advertising for the food there! I like how you included the part about how we should be careful on what we post on social media. I really like this post overall for all the interesting facts and on how you thought about this situation and handled it in a great way.

  27. I really loved how you told your story! It was entertaining and fun to read! I think this was a good personal experience lesson and a good mesage to everyone to be careful of what they put online.

  28. I can not believe that your face is on a billboard in Africa. You were right about how you can never be 100% save from the internet. Still it seems cool to be on a billboard in a different continent.

  29. It’s so cool how you got to be on an advertisement in Ghana! Although I would agree that you don’t have that much power over the pictures after uploading it on the internet, but It was so surprising that from traveling to another country and loving the food, you got to be on an advertisement! I really did not know this and I’m glad I read it!!

  30. This is a very interesting and well written article. It engages the readers with many little funny parts. It’s like I can hear your concern that your face is on a billboard.

  31. I thought that it was funny when you said that you would run screaming into your son’s whale-shaped bathtub to never come out again. I thought you made the right decision to find the person who put your picture onto the advertisement. I also thought that it was very cool have your picture on a advertisement.

  32. I thought that your article was very well written. It is very cool that a picture of you is on a sign. I also thought that it was good of you to investigate how your picture got on a sign.

  33. Dear Ms. Marshall,
    I actually think that it is super cool that your face is on the cover of a menu. I really liked this article because it was cool to see how an ordinary person you might see walking down the street could suddenly be seen on the cover of a menu in another country. It’s also a huge coincidence that your friend found it of all of the restaurants she could have passed she finds the one that has your face on the cover.

  34. This seems really interesting, but sort of creepy!

  35. lol….I guess you are entitled to a benefit, that’s quite normal in though.

  36. Nice one….! Great advice.

  37. That’s unbelievable! What a funny story

  38. I’m really glad that you acknowledged the voyeuristic aspect of this! As an elementary school teacher in NZ, I know that in order to put photos of any of my students online, the formal protocol is to send home a permission release letting parents know my intentions (usually a class blog, not even my own personal travel blog)… but yet at the same time, I see so many people who teach english as second language, using pictures of their students on their personal blogs, and I wonder to myself, did those kids/their parents consent to that? It’s quite an issue in our global culture.

    Good luck figuring this out!

  39. Does this mean free food for life at this restaurant for you? :p

  40. I would love it if this happened to me! I think it’s hilarious, but can understand how it would freak some people out. You should go to the restaurant one day and take a picture of you eating in front of the picture of you eating 😛

  41. That’s very surreal, but I think it’s less weird than if you really had no connection at all with Ghana!

  42. Great story! They sure have to give you a free lifetime delivery in return… 😉

  43. You really put this situation into perspective and embraced it! I love how you turned it into a lesson to teach your students. I’m sure it was extremely weird seeing your face on a billboard, but you dealt with it beautifully! Good for you! Thanks for sharing this great post!

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