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Bullying goes viral and the online world follows suit

It didn’t take long for a YouTube clip of a bully being body-slammed by his much larger and older victim to go viral. YouTube pulled the clip because it went against its terms and conditions (they don’t want to be seen as endorsing violence) but the damage was already done. It was an international hit (if you’ll pardon the pun), particularly with audiences in Australia, where the incident took place, and the US. It was analysed by child psychologists and experts in bullying, and TV shows in both countries devoted a lot of air time to interviews and panel discussions on the matter.

In a way, the world’s fascination with the clip is disturbing. It’s not a gimmick; it’s not a marketing tactic. It’s two boys embroiled in terrible real-life battle that many children have to face every day. The effects of the fight on the boys will linger far longer than our obsessive analysis.

Break it down

If you don’t know the story here it is in a nutshell:

A weaselly little 12-year-old, Richard Gale, was recorded punching and taunting a somewhat chubby 16-year-old, Casey Heynes. One of Gale’s friends recorded everything on his phone while others egged him on as Heynes tried to avoid the blows. After one punch too many there was a bit of a scuffle and Heynes picked up Gale and body-slammed him onto the concrete floor. It’s quite something to watch.

Gale hobbled away and Heynes slowly set off in the other direction, but not before one of Gale’s friends tried to stare him down. It’s only at this point that a young lady, who saw the whole thing, stepped in and told the gang to back off.

The result

Both boys were suspended and the outrage began. The vast majority of people have lent their support to Heynes’ cause. There are now several Facebook page dedicated to “Casey the Punisher” and Casey the “gentle giant”. A group of hacktivists called Anonymous hacked the school’s website and left it with a picture of V for Vendetta’s mask and a message that strongly criticises the school (and the public) for letting cases of bullying get so far.

Heynes is being hailed as a hero and Gale is being labelled a rat. Even his mother thinks that he got what he deserved (more or less), although in an interview she tearfully says that the reaction and hatred directed at her son is disproportionate to his crime.

Both boys have been interviewed (separately) on Australian TV shows and the clips have gone viral. On the shows Heynes clearly comes off best. He’s calm and eloquent and is bewildered by all the attention. Gale, meanwhile, appears with an eyebrow ring (remember that he’s only 12), dirty nails and is less than remorseful. When asked if he was sorry, he replied that he was not. Then his father, who was not on camera, obviously sent him panicked signals and he changed his mind to say, “Uh, yes.”

Later on the interviewer asks him if he’ll ever bully anyone again, and it takes Gale a disturbingly long time before he answers, “Probably not”.

Viral piggy-backing

The viral videos (all of them) have sparked a range of accompanying viral ideas, especially when it comes to online games. Apparently Heynes has been nicknamed Zangief, a character in Street Fighter who also has a penchant for body slams. So, now we have Zangief Kid: The Game, where you can transform from victim to hero by beating up bullies. To keep it morally above board players are only allowed to beat up after the bullies after they have been hit.

If you prefer being the bad guy, and don’t mind losing, you can play Super Bully Fighter, where you are the bully who meets his comeuppance.

Asher Moses says that there video and image mashups and remixes doing the rounds and online activists are lobbying for a Casey Heynes Anti-bullying Day.

One on-the-ball Taiwanese website has already released an animated video of the whole thing.

Life goes on

Viral gold aside, the incident raises a lot of important issues.

Gale claims that Heynes started it. He said he was “abused” first. By which he means Heynes said, “Get to class you idiot.” Gale also claims that he’s been bullied all of his school life and he snapped when Heynes picked on him. Heynes claims that the attack came out of no where and that he’s been bullied all his life and that he’s been too isolated to talk to anyone about it.

Without actually coming right out and saying it, US-based Dr Susan Lipkin implies that Gale was probably not provoked by Heynes. After all, she points out his friends were awfully quick to record it.

This isn’t the first time that kids (either friends of the bully or those witnesses who go missing) have recorded episodes of bullying and posted them online. Is the opportunity to go viral and achieve a measure of notoriety a motivating factor when it comes to this kind of thing?

Other important questions include:

1)       Where are the parents?

2)       Where is the school?

3)       Where are the witnesses?

4)       Just what exactly are children who are bullied supposed to do?

5)       Why do victims turn into bullies?

So far no one seems to have any answers.

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