The story of “Lukeywes1234” on YouTube says as much about the online safety we need to be thinking about as it does about new-media fame and marketing.
By Anne Collier
YouTube and an 8-year-old boy have gotten a whole lot of citizen marketing in the past few days – plus coverage in big-name sites like The Guardian, NPR, and the Washington Post. Salon.com called “Lukeywes1234” (the boy’s YouTube screenname) “The littlest YouTube sensation.” Though nothing like the Susan Boyle story (but this is just a kid who never appeared on US or UK national television), it’s still about the tao of fame and sometimes power on the social Web, and its particulars are that a boy below the minimum age in YouTube’s terms of service established an account; posted some goofy vlog (video blog) videos of himself; had a handful of subscribers that grew quickly, with the help of either 4chan (as cited in all mainstream media reports) or eBaum’s World (explained here and mentioned in comments under The Guardian’s story); ended up with some 15,000 subscribers before YouTube deleted his account; and is written up in major news outlets in several countries. The deletion of his account reportedly angered Europe-based online underground troll or prankster group 4chan, which in protest declared yesterday (1/6) YouTube Porn Day, threatening to embed porn into family-friendly videos on YouTube, as it did last spring (see this, but don’t worry: Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams trawled YouTube “all day for examples [of 4chan’s porn], and it’s a lot easier to find real porn just about anywhere else”).
Now there are nearly 250 tribute videos to Lukeywes1234 on YouTube, which has made little of all of this (but gotten lots of publicity). A YouTube spokesperson told Andy Carvin at NPR that this was just another day in the life of YouTube.
As Salon’s Williams, concludes, “A boy puts up videos of himself, shot by his grandma, posturing as hero, and in the process actually becomes something of an unlikely hero. Why? Probably because, along with laughing at the amateurishness of the whole enterprise, people feel a real sense of fondness for a sweet kid goofing around with his computer.” Hope so. If it’s not about a bunch of juvenile adults and/or idealogues creating a lot of drama at the expense of a sweet kid. None of the coverage says how the kid has handled insta-fame (which is probably good, they’re leaving him alone!) or whether the adults in his life are offering some love and perspective on all this. The online safety issue most on my mind these days is how we help all kids – not just famous ones – find time for reflection and independent thought amid the increasingly 24/7, reality-TV drama of schoolkid life (MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle writes compellingly about “the tethered self” here).