The “Star Wars Kid” video is a classic example of a widely viewed video that was shared online to embarrass a teen. In 2002, a fourteen-year-old heavyset boy created a home video of himself swinging a golf ball retriever as though it was a light saber from Star Wars. A year later, a classmate of his found this home video, digitized it, and put it up online. Others edited the video, setting the action to music and dubbing in sound effects, graphics, and other special effects. The resultant “Star Wars Kid” video spread rapidly and received extensive media attention. It became the source of new memes and mocking video spin-offs. Even comedians like Weird Al Yankovic and Stephen Colbert produced their own renditions. Although people gained attention for spreading the video or creating their own versions, the cost of this mass attention was devastating to the teenager in the video. His family sued his classmates for emotional duress because of
the ongoing harassment he faced.
The “Star Wars Kid” video exemplifies how mass public shaming is a byproduct of widespread internet attention and networked distribution. Teenagers commonly face a lesser version of this when they receive unexpected and unwanted attention, when they become the target of a rumor, or when others share their content beyond its intended audience. Social media complicates the dynamics of social sharing and gossip because it provides a platform for information to spread far and wide, and people are often motivated to spread embarrassing content because others find it interesting. Spreadable media can be used to drum up productive attention, but it can also be used to shame.
Kevin, I was left wondering about the ethics of sharing. I imagine that ‘technically’ videoing the incident is ok, even if it does seem a bit weird. However, sharing is a different problem. It reminds me of danah boyd’s discussion of Star Wars kid in her book .