In a world where privacy is becoming a rarity, some are striking back – literally. The U.S. is seeing surge in #SmackCam violent videos being uploaded to Vinewhere the perpetrator smacks a stranger or friend in the face. This is being accepted under the premise of “social trending” but what happens when it moves from smacking to crying?
21-year-old physical therapy student Max Jerry is loosely credited as being the first person to turn #Smackcam from a hashtag into a fully fledged trend. Jerry started the #SmackCam videos — which involve a filmed clip where he “smacked” someone unawares and then uploaded it to Vine — on June 27 from his home in Boston. “I didn’t like the idea at first,” he said. “I didn’t really think it would go this far.”
Accidentally or not, SmackCam has taken off. And these #SmackCam uploads are rising in popularity every day. A quick search on Topsy (the social search engine) shows that the #SmackCam tag has been used 17,000 times in the last week. Today it has been used 2,557 times and that number is rising.
“My friends didn’t really like getting smacked to begin with, “ Jerry confided. “They would shout at me, and I would go run behind my Mom (Jerry lives at home) while I would upload it to Vine. Since this has blown up and gotten them on TV they’ve changed their minds.”
A quick look at the latest #SmackCams show a wide variation in video types. They range from pies to the face comedy, more disturbing videos that show fisticuffs, fire-play and unhappy looking victims.
“The smacks I do don’t really hurt,” said Jerry. They sound like they do but it’s not painful and I don’t go red.”
Jerry proudly claims SmackCams as his invention, but that’s not quite true.
“The first use of the Smackcam hash tag online was on July 2011, “ said Jeanne Feldkamp, the director of marketing communications for Topsy, a dedicated Twitter searching service. “ We ran a search using Topsy Pro, pulled up the hashtags that appeared and sorted them so the oldest appeared first.” However, at that time there was no Instagram Video OR Vine, so even if the premise was the same, the execution would have been very different.
Since Jerry started making regular #SmackCam’s numerous others have joined in, and they range from teens to celebrities. This week, American football player Cortland Finnegan #SmackCam’d his teammate Chris Long during a live TV interview.
This type of behavior may seem harmless, but the possibility of escalation into something more serious is a real threat. Violence that is shared through social media channels is nothing new. In fact the #Smackcam trend stems from an identical form of misbehavior that originated in the U.K. around 2005. This was termed Happy Slapping – and people, mostly teenagers would go slap someone in the face while they filmed it on their cellphone.
This had more sinister beginnings than SmackCam as the people who were happy slapped were generally unaware. This escalated to such a level that HappySlappers caused serious damage to their victims, the most extreme being the death of a 67-year-old man in 2010, which resulted in the two perpetrators, both under 16, being jailed.
Dr. Michele Nealon-Woods, National President of The Chicago School of Professional Psychology hopes this type of behavior won’t influence people against using social media. “Most of the time people behave very well in social media and use it to augment their lives online,“ she said in a phone call. “What seems interesting is when you put a barrier between one human being and another is when you lose that human interaction some people can go very far.”
Jourdan Smith, a 19 computer science sophomore from Florida, has never made a #SmackCam video or been a victim of one, yet he spends a large amount of his time looking at them online. Since May, Smith has managed a YouTube channel called “The best Vines” where he makes compilation videos on different Vine themes. “I look at what’s popular on Vine everyday then create video,” he told me.
“I think it’s hilarious to watch but it wouldn’t be so funny if I was on the receiving end,” he said. “It’s good to have a record of it. Most Vine creators delete the file once they have uploaded it, and as they’re so short (Vine videos are seven seconds) people don’t have the time or patience to go through all of them, so by compiling them (he rips the video and then edits them together) I get them more exposure.”
During Smith’s time spent working on Vine, he has noticed some recurring trends about Vine popular videos. “Things that cause pain tend to really well on Vine,” he said. “I was surprised when my SmackCam compilation did so well. I was expecting 10,000 views, and it’s at almost 200,000.”
“Some people like attention and seek in all sorts of ways, and things like Smackcam gives them an outlet to get attention in a public way,” said Dr. Nealon-Woods.
Jerry is concerned that people don’t go too far on Vine “There have been some videos where it has been going overboard.” he said. “I’ve seen videos where people are using fire and hitting strangers with sticks, they’re just getting carried away with what they’re doing.
The last time Jerry was smacked was week ago at the first New York #SmackCam meet up. “It was a bit of a surprise,” he said. “The person who did it was a stranger, but they asked my friends for permission.”
We reached out to Twitter for a comment about what, if any, steps they are taking to clamp down on #SmackCam. We have not received a response so far, but we can share that they recently announced a change to their mechanism of flagging inappropriate tweets. Rather than a long form you can now report abuse in an app, and that allows people an outlet to instantly flag abuse.
We also reached out to NYPD and Boston Police for their perspective on #Smackcam but received no response. Looking at other cases where social media has been used as a reason for prosecution — an example would be the recent New Jersey underage Snapchat sext scandal — would indicate that they would take a stand and use it as evidence.
“When we put smartphones between us and other people things can spiral out and we see a breakdown in normal human behavior. This kind of thing will only stop when we see real public consequences and someone comes forward, ” said Dr. Nealon-Woods. She believes that there should be more regulations around acceptable social media content, to prevent situations from escalating. “Anything that has become public will take a life of its own. It’s typically only stopped when something negative has happened.”