How an 11-year-old girl became a meme

By Anne Collier

Did Jessi Slaughter’s father think this was parenting, when he went on YouTube with her and threatened the harassers and trolls she had violently threatened too? He certainly made things worse, not better, for her – if his rant was for real (it was laughable to many viewers, based on their comments). The video of the Florida father and daughter, shown at the top of this page at, had been seen by 1.7 million people as of the article’s posting. But it “wasn’t the only thing to go viral: Jessi Slaughter’s real name, address and phone number was distributed widely via Internet pranksters, Tumblr and other online backchannels,” Gawker reports. Jessi, whose own on-camera invective seemed uncharacteristic of an 11-year-old, was now a meme, or Internet phenomenon (like lolcats or rickrolling), and – because of a steady stream of harassing calls to her house, including death threats – she was temporarily placed under police protection, Gawker adds. “She came home today, but she’s not online: A court order has barred her from using the Internet for at least three days” (it took a court order to get her Webcam turned off?). How it all started a little over a week ago is related in a timeline in the blog of parent and Norton Internet Safety Advocate Marian Merritt. This is a sad but opportune story for families to talk about. Some possible talking points (it’s important to be completely nonconfrontational in this discussion, of course) are: Does anybody in this house use a Webcam and – if so – can we talk about what for? It’s definitely not for sharing innermost thoughts, good or bad. But when is videochat good and when can it go bad? If you use a Webcam, do you always know if you’re recorded, where a recording might go or how it could be edited? Same questions about any phone-based video. What kind of behavior caused problems for Jessi? Could this ever happen to you – why/why not? Is there anything good about retaliation, revenge, or threatening people? You get the idea. Families need to have more conversations like this, and this would be one heck of a “current events” story for the classroom, one that can teach about a lot more than the news and popular culture, including cyberbullying and its antidote: citizenship and respect for self and others, online and offline. Here’s coverage at the San Francisco Chronicle and well-timed context in a thoughtful New York Times Magazine piece about a just-held MIT conference on the Internet-memes spectrum, from the lighter, mindless “commodity pop culture” (or “juvenilia”) end to the dark, anonymous cruelty of trolls.

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