An 11-year old girl calling herself Jessi Slaughter had an emotional breakdown on YouTube late last week. Nothing new, right? This story has generated a lot of buzz because although everyone can agree that the whole situation sucks, no one is exactly sure who is to blame.
Her original uploads, which featured her declaring how she was better/prettier/more popular than everyone on the internet, have been taken down, but the internet is keeping them alive.
Trolls from prank-loving 4chan, the Tumblr blog network and elsewhere allegedly sent pizza deliveries and considered sending call girls to her house and bombarded her social network profiles with hateful comments.
Jessi, bewildered and hysterical, posted two response videos, which caught on mostly because her father peppered the footage with instantly meme-worthy empty threats like “You done goofed” and “Consequences will never be the same” and claimed that offenders had been “back-traced” by the “cyber police.”
Her father’s helplessness and amusing lack of understanding of how the internet works only fueled the trolls’ desire to further inflict pain on Jessi’s family. One troll called Jessi’s home, posing as the police.
So that’s the short version. Now let’s go back to the beginning and see what led this 11-year-old girl to tell strangers to shoot themselves in the heads, and whose fault this whole thing is.
We now know Jessi had also posted nude and suggestive photos of herself on Facebook and allegedly elsewhere. There is also a bizarre side-story here involving the singer of an emo band called Blood on the Dance Floor who goes by the stage name Dahvie Vanity. Know Your Meme reports that someone accused Jessi of having a sexual relationship with Dahvie, and Jessi quickly refuted these claims. A police report has now surfaced regarding rape accusations involving Dahvie.
At some point, Jessi became aware that she now had “haters.” So she posted a NSFW video in response.
But the drama was just picking up. She was upset by all the “hate” left in her videos’ comments that she posted a tearful video explaining how her haters were ruining her life. Her dad chimed in too, threatening to report YouTube users to the cyber police.
Of course, all of this crying and moaning came after a video explaining that she couldn’t care less about what people were saying on the internet.
The internet has turned this thing into a meme in under 24 hours, with dozens of photoshops and remixes. Know Your Meme has a comprehensive gallery.
Anyway, Jessi did what any sane person would do, and closed her YouTube account. We thought this would put an end to everything. Finally, her parents made the right decision to stop engaging with the trolls. As of this morning, Jessi has been placed under police protection. When Gawker talked to Jessi’s mom, she said, “I haven’t seen it,” she says. “I don’t even go on the computer.” Which might be part of the problem!
The best you can do in a case like this is delete everything, stay off the internet for a while and hope that the trolls will get bored and move on to the next target. 4chan has a long tradition of simultaneously celebrating and vilifying annoying “cam-girls” like Boxxybabe, Lexibee and now Jessi Slaughter, for the same reasons that any group of young bored guys would pick on weird annoying girls offline.
In an excellent Gawker piece about the scandal, Adrien Chen provides a few takeaway lessons. Here’s one:
“Don’t pick on 11 year-old girls. Seriously. No matter how dumb they seem-no matter how much they might seem to deserve it-they are, at the end of the day, 11 year-old girls. You wouldn’t make an 11 year-old girl cry in real life; why do it on the Internet?”
I see where Adrien is coming from here. Who would excuse the scum who tracked down a child’s home address?
But at the same time, internet trolling is a constant. If given the opportunity, people will always be awful on the internet. Decrying the trolls is sort of like decrying a gang of thugs who mugged a guy wandering dark alleys wearing a suit made of hundred dollar bills. The girl was posting suggestive photos of herself, threatening people who posted nasty comments about her videos and taunting her bullies. In other words, this girl was inviting it. This doesn’t excuse the harassers, but no one would have come after her if she hadn’t been acting wildly inappropriate for an eleven-year-old girl.
Only eleven and posting nudes and threats online! Which is why the real failure here lies squarely on Mom and Dad’s shoulders. All 11-year-olds are idiots. When given the power of a worldwide platform to exhibit their vanity, they’ll take it. Kids with unfettered internet access need parents who understand how the internet works.
Mom Logic talked with Jessi’s mom, who had this to say:
“Communicate with your child, try and watch them and try and believe what your child is saying to you. Give your child the benefit of the doubt, because nobody else will. And talk to your child about cyberbullying and about how bad it’s going to hurt another person. They don’t know or understand the dwindling-down effect of what they’ve created.”
That’s her takeaway? I feel like the lesson here should be that you shouldn’t give your child the benefit of the doubt and just assume that they’re probably up to no good online. How much time would it take to buzz through the browser history once a week?
And it’s not just girls like Jessi. A lot of these trolls are underage too, and many of them have little to no relationship with 4chan, the seedy underbelly of the internet that often gets blamed when this kind of exploitation takes place online. 4chan’s users are hardly a homogenous group, and most of them are harmless. The vast majority of 4chan users never touched this story. Same for Tumblr, where some of Jessi’s other harassers hang out.
Take this kid for instance. Where are his parents, and how will they react when their son can’t get a job someday because he was an idiot on the internet when he was 14?
The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal is sympathetic to the parents’ reaction. He did a great job of explaining what must have been going through Dad’s head:
…this father tried to protect his daughter from the pain the world can inflict. As she sat crying in the foreground, he kneeled behind her and roared into a webcam at the nameless, faceless forces who had reduced his daughter to tears.
“But you know, there was a time when these kinds of threats worked, and maybe it was a good thing. Words like that from a dad just might put a scare into some cruel 13-year-olds on a mission to ruin some kid’s life for fun. In the old days, dads could handle harassment of their little girls. They’d pick up the phone line and yell at prank callers. They’d show up at schools and tell some kids to back off.”
Madrigal says this strategy can’t work when the kids are completely anonymous and attacking from anywhere in the world. So what should parents do to prevent this from happening to their children, and if it does happen, how should they react to prevent some freak from showing up at their house in a V for Vendetta mask? Stay tuned for our how-to guide.