It's something parents tend not to think about when they opt to post that adorable/awkward/crazy video of their kid on YouTube: What happens years after the clip goes viral?
For Quebec native Gyslain Raza, also known as "Star Wars Kid," his sudden, unwanted fame led to years of pain and suicidal thoughts.
"No matter how hard I tried to ignore people telling me to commit suicide, I couldn’t help but feel worthless, like my life wasn’t worth living," Raza, now 25, said in his first-ever interview, which appears in L'actualite magazine (in French) and Maclean's (in English).
Raza recorded the video in his school's TV club studio, where he and a group of students had been practicing a "Star Wars" parody. He was 14 years old. The clip of him wildly fighting an invisible foe is just 1 minute and 48 seconds long. It's been shared nearly 27.5 million times and viewed by over a billion people since a friend of his posted it online in 2003 without Raza's permission.
"In the common room, students climbed onto tabletops to insult me," he told L'actualite. His friends shunned him, he had to change schools, and eventually was admitted to a psych ward and treated for severe depression. He now describes that time of his life as "a very dark period."
The early popular YouTube videos of kids, such as "David After Dentist" and "Charlie Bit My Finger" were put up without parents realizing their viral potential, points out Karen Anderson, a librarian at Rutgers who researched the impact of public videos on children for her book, "Configuring Childhood on the Web." Parents now may be even more motivated to share videos for the chance of monetary gain.
Given the way it's impossible to truly erase anything you've posted online, Raza's experience should give all video-posting parents pause. While his video was circulated without his knowledge, the ridicule and emotional trauma Raza dealt with is something any child who has appeared in a viral video could face.
"Children should not be on YouTube," said Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist Dr. Cara Gardenswartz. "If a parent wants to share a video of their child with their friends or family, they can do so privately."
"Putting children on video on the web has too many ramifications," she explained. "Parents are supposed to protect their children -- physically and emotionally. It's solely self-serving of the parents to use their children in this way."
Raza eventually overcame adversity. He earned a law degree from McGill University in Canada, and is now working to combat cyberbullying by sharing his personal story with the world.
"You'll survive. You'll get through it," he told the magazine in a message aimed at victims of cyber bullying. "And you're not alone. You are surrounded by people who love you."