Cyberbullying: So you've become a meme

It can start so innocently - a teenager fooling around in front of the camera before the wrong hands get hold of the footage. Online news editor Francis Cook looks at how memes can go viral.

In the video, a chubby kid swings a golf ball retriever around as though he's wielding Darth Maul's light saber. A couple of times he stumbles as he tries to perform swift moves. Many of us have seen it, and laughed at it.

Ghyslain Raza, dubbed "Star Wars Kid", was thrust onto the front page of the internet in one of the first known cases of cyberbullying.

Before YouTube even existed, the Canadian high school student video-taped himself and his peers found the VHS and uploaded it.

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Instead of finding it funny, or enjoying the fame, he dropped out of high school and fell into a deep depression that forced him to check into a psychiatric ward for children.

The video is now thought to have been seen by more than a billion people and images from it have been turned into countless memes.

Raza now offers hope and advice to others who find themselves caught in internet firestorms. Seek help, he says.

Blake Boston found similar notoriety on the internet in 2011 when a photo from his 2006 MySpace page was used to create a new meme called "Scumbag Steve", which implicated him as the high-school loser who turns up to parties and ruins them by stealing weed, inviting his bros and asking to borrow money.

He found out he had become a meme through friends and things went downhill quickly.

Cyberbullies tracked down his Facebook page and phone number and started messaging him, calling him at all hours of the night. Someone even posted an ultrasound picture of his unborn child and wished it would die.

"Annoying Facebook Girl" was the name given to a meme that used an image of a girl out with a group of friends. She represented friends on Facebook who write statuses hinting at a dramatic situation, but then tell people they don't want to talk about it.

Boston wrote an open letter to the girl in the image asking her to try and see the fun side in it and telling her it would pass.

"Before you feel like you're going to jump, you need to know that it's going to be OK... You're going to be in shock for a while, when you see what people have written. But the most important and self-preserving thing you can do is know that it's not you. You can't take this personally. I'll say that again, you can't take this personally. Hell if I did... well let's not go there."

For one man, internet mockery was too much. Aleksey Vayner, hoping to make a splash on Wall St, sent a video CV to investment bank UBS in which he exaggerated his achievements. The video was shared with friends, and eventually the entire world on YouTube. Following years of mockery, Vayner died from an overdose at age 29.

Memes are a form of cyberbullying in which people are protected by anonymity and distance - you can't track down and reprimand millions of people - and the internet can be viciously cruel.

What is a meme?

From "mimetes" (Greek meaning imitator), "meme" is a term coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1974 book The Selfish Gene to describe a "self-replicating unit of information". It's an idea or behaviour that spreads across groups.

In the internet age, a meme is a concept, image or video that goes viral, primarily on social media.

Where to get help:

• In an emergency: call 111
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633, or text 234 (available 24/7) or talk@youthline.co.nz or live chat (between 7pm and 11pm) http://livechat.youthline.co.nz/mibew/chat?locale=en&style=youthline
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155 (weekdays 11am to 5pm)
• NetSafe: 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723), www.theorb.org.nz

- NZ Herald

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