Late Monday night, Erica Kalnins received a startling message from her sister-in-law.
“She said, ‘I think there is a picture of you on Facebook,’ ” Kalnins tells PEOPLE.
Much to her horror, the 31-year-old discovered that a Facebook picture of her and her daughter had gone viral.
[IMAGE “2” “” “std” ]The picture was accompanied by derogatory comments from the person who uploaded the photo.
The post read in part: “This is the kind of ignorance that gets passed down to kids and [people] enable their children to be independent. This girl is at least 5 but [you] don t see in this picture is the 1 yr old in the stroller.”
The post was created by an Icing manager, according to a company statement.
“I got really upset,” says Kalnins, who asked the poster to remove it. She says she never got a response or apology and the woman’s Facebook page appears to have been deleted.
“It’s not acceptable to be photographed while I am shopping at a business with my 5-year-old – and bash that person and post it on the Internet,” says Kalnins, adding that her 1-year-old daughter was also with her at the time in a stroller.
“My daughter does not have special needs, but what if she did have special needs? she adds.
“I’ve worn both of my children, and I’m not going to criticize someone not using a baby carrier,” she says. “As moms, we have the same goal – to raise them with love and compassion – and we should not judge parenting style.”
Attorney David Greene, the civil liberties director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, tells PEOPLE that however rude a post may be, an image taken in a public place is generally protected by the First Amendment.
“You have a right to take an image of people when they are out in public and you have a right to publish stuff,” he says. “In public, you are exposing yourself to public scrutiny and that can include your image becoming viral.”
Within hours of the original post, Kalnins says scores of moms across the globe reached out to the stay-at-home mom, who is also a photographer.
“They were sending me pictures of them and their kids – wearing their child in a carrier – and they are saying they are behind me and there should not be an explanation,” Kalnins says.
On Tuesday, about three dozen outraged moms marched with Kalnins to the Citrus Park Mall, where Icing is located, to say that no one should criticize them for carrying their babies on their bodies. Kalnins says another sit-in is tentatively planned for Friday.
“What started out as something really painful I felt better when so many moms reached out,” she says.
Scores of commenters have also posted to Icing’s Facebook page in support of Kalnins, many with photos of them holding their children in carriers.
Icing issued the following statement on its Facebook page:
“We were appalled by the views expressed by an Icing Store Manager on her personal Facebook account, and her actions were a significant breach of conduct that we take very seriously. Her personal views in no way reflect the views of Icing, and we have taken the necessary appropriate action with the individual.”
Icing’s corporate office has reached out to Kalnins to apologize, but she’s still waiting to hear from the store manager, she says.
“I wear my kids because as a mother, I know how quick the time goes, and I like to cuddle them and have both my hands free,” she says. “My child is happy and they are close to their mom and I can do what I need to do.”