On 8 December 2017, a Tennessee boy named Keaton Jones appeared in a video, visibly distraught over bullying. His mother, Kimberly, filmed the video, which quickly went viral. Although the original clip has since been deleted, extant copies were widely available and shared:

Within days, celebrities including Justin Bieber, Gal Godot, LeBron James, Chris Evans, and Mark Ruffalo expressed support for and extended red-carpet invitations to Keaton via Twitter. A third-party GoFundMe page for Keaton’s family quickly raised over $56,000 before it was closed for donations.

However, by 11 December 2017, what was initially a “feel good” story of support for a bullied child veered into controversy. A purported screenshot of Keaton’s mother’s Facebook page began circulating apparently showing family members posing with a Confederate flag and seeming to denigrate those who opposed it:

keaton jones milkshake duck

Internet users quickly responded, likening Jones’s Facebook posts to bullying aimed at black people:

Jones later confirmed in an interview with CBS that the photographs showing her with a Confederate flag were authentic but said that she did not hold racist views:

“The only two photos — the only two photos on my entire planet that I am anywhere near a Confederate flag. It was ironic. It was funny,” Jones said.

“It didn’t have anything to do with racist intent?” Strassmann asked.

“No. No. Absolutely not. I’ve said I spent most of my life being bullied and judged because I wasn’t racist,” Jones said.

Yet another controversy erupted when MMA fighter Joe Schilling claimed in a video that he had reached out to Keaton’s mom on Instagram with an offer of friendship, but that she had rebuffed him and asked him to share the GoFundMe page. “She just wants money,” said Schilling. 

However, the family says that the Instagram account — which was verified but has since been deleted —was not authentic. Keaton’s sister, Lakyn Jones, responded to the controversy in a series of tweets:

Joseph Lam, who created the GoFundMe for Keaton and his family, posted an update about its status and how it related to the building backlash over the bullying controversy:

As many of you know I paused the donations as well as the comments. As I sit back and read these comments and watched the video again I feel I have to make this update. THIS IS NOT ABOUT THE MOM!! However passing judgement on her before you know her is a form of bullying. Condemnation before evaluation is the ultimate form of ignorance. I can’t even say for sure that any of whats being said is true. I don’t know the family personally and never claimed to have known them. This is about a kid who’s been bullied and not just one kid, Keaton, there are many unspoken cases about kids being bullied. We have to be the voice for the voiceless. In the video I saw a kid crying not just for himself but for others. To me thats a kid with a heart of gold and deserves praise. Im hoping that we can turn the money into something good whether it be for private school or college fund. Im in touch with GFM on how to proceed at this point. Thank you every one that donated.

As for the third-party GoFundMe that raised almost $57,000 for Keaton and his family, its fate is unclear. Lam suspended the campaign on 11 December 2017, and Lakyn said no funds have been disbursed to the family.

Sources:

Bromwich, Jonah Engel.   “How a Joke Becomes a Meme: The Birth of ‘Milkshake Duck.’”
    The New York Times.   27 June 2017.

Callahan, Yesha.   “He Went Viral Because of Bullying, But Keaton Jones’ Mother Just Might Be a Racist Money Grabber.”
    The Root.   11 December 2017.

Hamblin, Abby.   “Emotional Bullying Video Spurs Millions of Americans to ‘Stand with Keaton Jones’.”
    The San Diego Union-Tribune.   11 December 2017.

Pirani, Fiza.   “Who Is Keaton Jones, The Bullied Boy Inspiring Thousands Around the World?”
    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.   11 December 2017.

CBS News.   “Emotional Bullying Video: Mom Addresses Backlash Over Confederate Flag Posts.”
    21 December 2017.

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