never cry wolf

Jonah Mowry’s video was shared by a number of sympathetic viewers on my Facebook feed. Given the respect I have for these friends I clicked it and watched and got quickly caught up in Jonah’s message, in his appeal. He communicates his message by showing three by five cards choreographed to a song with a powerful emotion. Jonah’s emotion plays through as well as his narrative speaks to what seems to be unspeakable, bullying. He gives us a bit of hope at the end, relieving our fears that something more dreadful would come of this.

Jonah’s message was uploaded in August and remained in relative obscurity until it was featured on the blog of Perez Hilton earlier this month and from there many jumped on Jonah’s bandwagon from Lady Gaga to Rosie O’Donell. The clip went viral, over seven and a half million hits as I write this.

ABC News’ Good Morning America, quick to pick up on the sensation, hosted Jonah and his family on a segment of the show. It’s an amazing story of courage and triumph for Jonah as he now enjoys the inverse of his plight; he’s popular in school and now gets along with those who bullied him.

His message had such an impact on me that I wanted to respond the first time I saw it. I searched his name and came up with an interesting mix of responses, the majority of which were similar messages back to Jonah offering encouragement and hope. I looked further in hopes to find an email address to which I could write more directly, but my search was interrupted when I found a couple of other YouTube posts, another by Jonah and one by Jade.

Jonah’s was more recent, after his video went viral but before his appearance on Good Morning America. In it is a much different Jonah who declares that he’s really a very popular kid at his school. He appeals to all those people who think that nobody likes him, that he is indeed loved by almost his entire school. He continues, juggling between his message and posting his message, but within it something became clear and disturbing to me. I had been duped.

Something is missing in Jonah’s second post. Instead of the ernest appeal for compassion there is instead an appeal to his ego. He has difficulty dealing with the effects of his first message, that we may think he’s unpopular. What’s missing in this mixed message is conscience. What’s evident in his message is semantic aphasia, though he’s thirteen and it’s rare to find verbal continuity in most kids that age.

I watched his first video again, this time with the agreement of a skeptic. And I felt a fool, especially given my research and training, because there at 1:15 Jonah’s face betrays him, the quick little push of a smile, a micro expression. It happens again at 2:53, a smile that is known in detection circles as duper’s delight. It’s an indication that Jonah feels he’s getting away with something.

It’s important to note that I believe Jonah. I’m certain he’s a victim of the bullying he decries in this video and I believe he’s cut himself and I believe is self esteem it brittle. What I don’t believe is his intention behind his message.

The second video I found in my search to reach out to Jonah was a YouTube post by a girl called Jade. Her video hit YouTube last March, four months before Jonah’s, and in it is her plea, using three by five cards, choreographed to a song that evokes strong emotion. She advances the cards, establishing her message, the same message, at times verbatim, as Jonah’s.

So, semantic aphasia, duper’s delight and now plagiarism.

I watched the GMA interview again. While I’d certainly admit that we often find what we’re looking for, and such is the danger in spotting nonverbal tells of deception in any artifact, what was there at five seconds into the interview can’t be denied. As Jonah is introduced the shot cuts to him close-up and then to an establish of his family. On the heels of that cut is that smile again, punching through, finding great satisfaction in the national spotlight.

As you might imagine and can confirm by a Google search of “Jonah Mowry,” many are quite outspoken if not outraged by this publicity, accusing him of lying, and that’s the rub, because he’s not. Jonah Mowry has cried wolf not to bring attention to the surging context of bullying but to aggrandize himself with his sexual orientation on his sleeve.

That’s what is truly troublesome because for whatever ground the grass-roots movement to bring awareness to bullying has gained, Jonah Mowry has set it back. He’s called into question the credibility of oppressed boys and girls who are reaching out for reasons other than popularity, they’re crying out for attention of a more empathic kind.

The good from Jonah’s original post is evidenced in the hundreds of empathic responses, which, I hope, endure Jonah’s fifteen minutes and touch us all to a point of changing behavior, increasing compassion and reaching out.

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