I have to admit it…I could watch Vine videos all day. I didn’t really think much of the “6 Second” service until I met Ray Ligaya. Ray was at a speaking event I had in Waterloo, Ontario, where I was talking about social media, where he was serving. We started talking about Twitter and he asked me if I had heard about Vine. I had but didn’t really think much of it, until he told me had hundreds of thousands of followers on the service. I started following him, and he has the typical videos that I would have made when I was his age, with a lot of potty humour, yet it appeals to a ton of people. He told me already that time that he had been “recognized” often because of his work through the service, so I was hooked, and started looking more and more at the service.
What I had noticed was that a lot of the popular Vine accounts were created by teenagers. Some of them dancers, some of them comedians, and some of them just sharing little aspects of their lives, in a compelling way. There is seemingly a little and a lot that can be created in 6 seconds which is creativity, even if it looks different than what we are used to seeing, and there is actually a lot of money being made from the service. Brandon Bowen is a 16 year old who has seen tremendous success through using Vine (he has over a million followers on the service), but also still deals with a tremendous amount of bullying, yet has a tremendous sense of humour:
Talking about this with my friend Chris Wejr, he asked the question, “what would it be like to grow up as a kid today? This has to have some kind of impact.” The instant “celebrity” is something that many kids dreamed up as a kid but did not have the same opportunities that exist today, but with that, comes the down side. There are probably a lot of kids dealing with harassment online, nasty comments, and things I couldn’t even imagine. “Alex from Target” had instant fame and he talked about the downside and the impact of his life. According to the story, it wasn’t even of his own doing (although there are reports that the story was made up), and now he has to deal with the impacts of being “famous” which, according to Nick Bilton, has had some huge negative consequences:
While Alex is clearly enjoying some of the attention, he and his family have also had to deal with more serious consequences of web fame. A crafty marketing firm, Breakr, tried to take credit for Alex’s rise. (Everyone the company claims it worked with, including Alex’s family and @auscalum, has denied ever hearing of Breakr. In a report, BuzzFeed said that the company’s claims simply don’t add up.)
Thousands have taken to social media to call Alex names (including vulgarities) or fabricate stories about him being fired. Twitter is littered with posts that denigrate his looks (e.g., “Alex from Target is so damn ugly”) or spew envy at him (“Alex from Target is a nobody who doesn’t deserve fame”).
There have even been dozens of death threats on social media and in private messages (“Alex from target, I’ll find you and I will kill you”).
A Vine video of Liam Payne from One Direction tells a powerful story of fame in our world today where he is smiling for each “selfie” he takes with a fan, yet in the milliseconds in between pictures, you can seen the wear it has on him, even in complete adoration.
There are so many people who will come up to person and not ask their name, or want to have a question, yet will simply want a selfie, to say that they met that person. I really loved listening to Louis CK talk about how he actually refused to take pictures with fans but actually made them have a conversation, and the sheer disappointment that some of them had for actually having to talk to the celebrity.
This is not just kids mind you,but adults as well. Think about this…if you could meet a celebrity and talk to them for one minute without any of your friends ever being allowed to know, or could take a selfie with them to share with the world, which one would you take? I don’t think many people would have an answer.
So if we continue to talk about “digital citizenship” with our kids, I think the conversations have to evolve past solely focusing on “being safe” and cyberbullying (which are important but there is so much more to discuss), but also about the impact that this media can have on our lives, and how some would even say that it is making us “needier”. More and more kids are answering the question of “what do you want to be when you grow up?”, with answers like “YouTube celebrity” or “Vine Star”. Too many, it is an easy step to fame that comes with many benefits (like a salary) at a young age, but also can easily turn to online harassment from many that can turn likes (or sometimes the lack of them) into anxiety. We don’t have to worry only about the psyche of a kid who doesn’t get the “likes” or is not “reshared”, but also the ones that do get the likes.
This is so complicated for so many reasons.
There are lots of questions that we need to ask in a world where a kid can create a life for themselves that we couldn’t create this quickly even ten years ago. But as with all learning, our understanding of “digital citizenship” has to continuously evolve and we need to continuously have conversations with our kids about this topic.
We have some tricky waters to navigate.
(If I could suggest a book to read on this topic that is extremely worth it, take a look at Danah Boyd’s “It’s Complicated; The Lives of Networked Teens”. It will definitely help with conversations in your classroom on this topic that go beyond “Don’t talk to strangers.”)