Racist comments may be sadly commonplace online, but you wouldn't expect to see them generated by your co-worker's friends on a picture of your own child.
That's the situation Sydney Shelton, an employee of Atlanta's Polaris Marketing Group, found herself in after a colleague posted a selfie with Shelton's 3-year-old son, Cayden. The photo, originally posted Sept. 16, seemed innocent enough, until it began eliciting a string of racist jokes from friends of the photographer.
"But Massuh, I dindu nuffin," wrote one commenter on the post. "I didn't know you were a slave owner," said another.
Instead of deleting the comments, the man who posted the image (identified as account manager Gerod Roth, though he posted the photo under the name "Geris Hilton") appeared to join in the jokes, responding "he was feral" to a friend's question, "Dude where the hell did you get a black kid?"
The photo and its comments soon went viral after screenshots began being circulated outside the photographer's social network. The hashtag #HisNameIsCayden was created in solidarity with the boy's mother, and today it was one of the top trending topics on Facebook.
Roth told Atlanta news station Fox 5 that he's paying a price for comments made by his friends and that he originally posted the photo after Cayden asked him for a selfie. He said his "feral" comment wasn't meant to be racist and that when Facebook removed the post, it also deleted Roth's follow-up comment asking friends to be more respectful and professional.
"My entire post was taken out of context," he told the station. "I just feel really upset, not only with myself, but also with the character that was based off the comments that my friends had made. I feel as if not only poor Cayden himself has been victimized but also myself for being targeted."
Roth has since been fired from his marketing job at Polaris. On the company's Facebook page, the agency president posted the following note about the situation:
This morning I was disgusted to learn that one of my former employees made several racially charged comments on his personal Facebook page. Even worse, the comments were directed toward the son of another employee.
It breaks my heart that Sydney and her adorable son Cayden were subjected to such hateful, ignorant and despicable behavior. Cayden visits my office almost every afternoon after daycare, he's sat at my dinner table and I consider him a part of the PMG family.
The atrocious lies, slander and racism he and his mother have been forced to endure are wholly intolerable. Myself and the entire PMG family in no way condones this kind of behavior and would never willingly associate with anyone who does.
It has no place in the world.
PMG has terminated the employee responsible and will ensure that none of the businesses that we associate with will ever do business with him again.
Michael Da Graca Pinto
Polaris Marketing Group, Inc.
The swift move generated a large number of positive comments for the agency, such as: "When my business is big enough to need marketing advice, Polaris will be the first place I visit. Thank you for standing up for what's right."
"So that means you have a position open," noted another commenter. "To whom do I send my resume?"