When Vine, the short video mobile app owned by Twitter, debuted in January, media critics immediately speculated that it would be used for sharing pornography.
But if the novelty for short X-rated clips hasn't exactly worn off, a new and arguably more disturbing trend has emerged on Vine: an unsuspecting slap to the face.
Dubbed #SmackCam, it's a simple and humiliating premise that consists of spontaneously striking someone across the face (the hashtag, for the few remaining Luddites unfamiliar with social media, functions as a search tool). In some cases, the smack is compounded by a fistful of baby powder. And then the six-second video runs in continuous repetition on someone's Twitter or Vine stream, just in case the effect of one blow to the face was not enough.
This page offers an idea of what's involved and how quickly people are uploading their own versions to Vine.
Defenders – most of them still teenagers – of the meme argue that this is funny. Which, of course, it isn't – even if the victim has been forewarned. The question is whether it constitutes as assault.
The Atlantic Wire's analysis of SmackCam notes that it raises all sorts of gender issues and functions as a form of bullying.
Indeed, the general consensus is that the meme falls under the distinction of "horrifying."
The Atlantic Wire's Megan Garber described it on Twitter as "human terribleness, on an infinite loop."
Vine users can flag disturbing sexual content and there's no reason why they can't do the same with #SmackCam clips. But then how helpful is a flag or two when the act itself has already been committed? Moreover, it's likely that the majority of SmackCam incidents are non-consensual.
Incidentally, the phenomenon seems to have originated in the UK where police have been aware of teenagers recording similar random acts of "happy slappers." In this way, the migration to Vine suggests that the medium is not responsible for the activity itself but an evolution in its transmission. And because the purpose of Twitter is easily digestible content, all that smacking on repetition and repeated by others means that people become desensitized to its impact. But a slap that appears in the virtual world still leaves a residual sting in the real one.