It all started off just as fun.
That’s what 21-year-old college student Max Isidor said about a now viral internet trend that he created called #SmackCam, which uses the social network Vine to share videos of people being unexpectedly slapped in the face.
But the idea, spawned by a suggestion from Isidor’s cousin on a bored summer day, has gone from fun to dangerous as new videos displaying much more violent versions of the trend have begun popping up all over the internet.
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"It was originally just for fun," Isidor said. "Now it seems like people are going crazy. I don’t understand why they’re going overboard with it."
Isidor first posted a video of himself playfully smacking his cousin, Jerry Labranche in the face back in July of this year. He later created a compilation of the Smack Cam videos and posted it on YouTube. To date, the compilation has received more than one million views and more than 2,000 comments.
Isidor says his cousin volunteered to participate in the first, staged video because he thought it would be funny. But some of the recent videos imitating the trend look to be anything but humorous.
One video (see below) shows a man approach and smack a woman who appears to be a stranger to the man, apparently knocking her unconscious. Another shows a teen smacking a friend in the face with a small fire created in his hand using Axe Body Spray. Both videos have received thousands of retweets and shares on social media, with many people citing them as comical.
Isidor said he’s surprised by the more violent adaptations of the trend.
“It seems like people are going crazy. Using fire. I saw one where someone smacked a cop; guys hitting girls. It’s crazy,” he said.
“It’s a bad idea for people who are taking it the wrong way and doing something bad with it. It was not really my intention to do that at all. I did this with good friends. I didn’t do it with random strangers and stuff like that, and I didn’t try to hurt them.”
The #SmackCam trend has been imitated by thousands of everyday people as well as celebrities such as Chris Brown, who posted a series of videos smacking his friends; and Basketball Wives star Laura Govan, who posted a video showing her smacking her NBA baller husband, Gilbert Arenas.
In addition to Vine's official Facebook page dedicated to posting the"best Smack Cam videos ever," more than 100 Smack Cam pages have been created on Facebook. In recent months, it appears other cultures began adopting the trend, as Facebook pages aggregating #SmackCam videos popped up in Welsh, French and German.
So how did #SmackCam become so popular in the first place?
Assistant Professor of Communication at La Salle University Mark Lashley says the relatively new social media platform, Vine, made it easy for people to share their versions of the meme.
“I think it’s interesting and spreadable mostly because of Vine, and the sheer number of people using Vine and keeping up with the trend there. If people were making five minute Smack Cam videos, it probably wouldn’t be so popular,” Lashley said.
“Most of these videos are really short and fast, because that’s what Vine requires. It reminds me of some of the photo trends that became big before, like planking, where just by nature of having the hashtag and wanting to be a part of that trend, people started imitating it. I've seen phenomenons like this before but never in these numbers.”
Professor of Educational Psychology at Temple University Frank Farley agreed that social media played an important role in spreading the trend, but also hinted at Type T personality behaviors—taking risks and craving novel experiences—as possible motivating factors for a person to commit a violent act like smacking an unknown person in public.
“The internet and social media is a global stage. If you are a thrill seeker, this is pretty exciting stuff; and if you post it, it adds to the excitement. You can start all sorts of things and amplify them through social media. In a rural town, if you slap someone, no one’s gonna know about it. But social media can go everywhere and that’s a challenge and a thrill for somebody who thrives on risky behavior,” Farley said.
“This sounds like an expression of the risk-taking, thrill-seeking Type T personality. Many of the perpetrators may be these T types and one of their things is pushing the envelope. It’s risky to go up and slap someone in public.”
Philadelphia Police say they haven’t had any reports related to the #SmackCam trend but SEPTA police say, if or when the trend surfaces in the city, they’ll be ready to respond.
“We have no reports of these incidents happening on our system. However, if we do receive a report or complaint of a SmackCam incident, we will treat it very seriously and the person would be charged with assault,” SEPTA spokesman Heather Redfern`said.
Right now it's far from trendy in Philly. A lone #SmackCam video, reportedly filmed in West Philadelphia, was posted on YouTube last month and has received less than 100 views.
Isidor says he hasn’t had much time to create new #SmackCam videos since he continued taking classes at Bay State College in September, but he didn’t rule out a return to the trend next summer. For now, he’s enjoying the publicity, which he says, despite some negative reactions, has been largely positive.
"I get noticed a lot by people, especially when I’m walking around or going to school in Boston. Whenever I go to the mall I get like nods and stuff like that. I haven’t had anybody come up to me publicly and tell me they hate me or anything like that. Most people say they love me for it," he said.
Editor's Note: Some may find these videos disturbing and there is profanity used at times.