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We laugh at them today, but what will become of YouTube viral video stars such as Emerson, “Charlie Bit My Finger” and “David After Dentists”?

Viral video stars today, what happens tomorrow?

Video clips of kids being... well, kids get plenty of laughs and hits on sites such as YouTube. But, some worry about the ethical and privacy issues of youngsters becoming viral video stars thanks to such postings as "Charlie Bit My Finger," "Emerson – Mommy's Nose is Scary!" and "David After Dentist."

The latter video shows a seven-year-old boy dealing with the effects of anaesthesia after oral surgery. As of July 15, one posting of the two-year-old clip had been viewed more than 96 million times on YouTube and there are many more versions available. In a 2009 Globe and Mail article about the video, child psychiatrist Marshall Korenblum stated:

"This now has the potential to be replayed over and over again at different points in his life. Why would you inflict this on your child?"

One of the latest viral video youngsters is Emerson. His mom posted a video of the then five-month-old laughing and being scared as she blew her nose. His grandfather posted the video on the sootoday.com news website he works. After a week it had 17,000 hits and went to almost 13 million two weeks later.

I don't believe we crossed over any kind of line here," Dave Helwig, Emerson's grandfather, told the Canadian Press in an article published on March 31. "In a broader sense, I suppose there would be circumstances where a child could be shown doing something embarrassing and down the road that could cause harm. Common sense tells me that I don't think this will be too embarrassing to Emerson when he gets older."

Others disagree and wonder if the kids are being exploited for laughs. In the Canadian Press article Indiana University journalism professor Hans Ibold, who teaches about new media, stated:

"To me, as a new parent, it feels really exploitative, that's just my gut feeling, but as far as thinking through these ethics and what we should and shouldn't allow, I think it's more complicated."

"The sort of boundaries that we've had before with older media are changing and a lot of people assume now that anything goes, that nothing is private any more. I think it will take some time to figure it out."

What effect a viral video could have on a young person is tough to predict. Back in 2002 a Canadian teen made a video of himself using a golf ball retriever as a light sabre. It was found by some schoolmates and posted online the next year. He became known as the "Star Wars Kid" and was not happy about it. Eventually settled out of court, his family sued the families of four schoolmates stating he "had to endure, and still endures today, harassment and derision from his high-school mates and the public at large" and "will be under psychiatric care for an indefinite amount of time," according to a 2007 MSNBC website article.

In 2007, Chris Crocker, then 20, rose to fame for "Leave Brittney Alone", a tearful video defending pop star Brittney Spears' comeback attempt at the MTV Video Music Awards. While the video has been parodied and he has been criticized for it, Crocker has used it to achieve fame and start his own music career. He released an EP earlier this year.

Crocker posted the video that made him famous. In the cases of children, they are not making the decision.

"We need to do the same kind of education with parents that we're doing with teenagers, which is: 'Just think twice of where this thing could go, how much control you lose when you send it out into the web and think about the unintended, unanticipated consequences," said Korenblum in a March 30, 2011 Canadian Press article.

It will likely take years or maybe even a generation to see how YouTube stardom affects young people. And even then, the effects could vary on a case by case basis.

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