Keaton Jones, a middle schooler from Knoxville, Tennessee is struggling with an unfortunately common problem: bullying. As the boy became increasingly fearful of joining his classmates for lunch, his mother decided to record his distress and post it to social media.
In it, Keaton sobs as he says that other kids make fun of his looks. His mother asks him to share what else children at school do to him, and he confesses that they pour milk on him at lunch. He implores viewers to not let the bullies get the best of them. “It’ll probably get better one day,” he sniffs.
The raw emotion and honesty of the video caught the attention of some very big names. Within 48 hours, Keaton was personally invited to the premiere of the new Avengers movie by star Chris Evans, and received well wishes from Demi Lovato, Justin Bieber, Millie Bobby Brown, Le Bron James, Kendall Jenner, Hailee Steinfeld, Mark Ruffalo, and many more.
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Keaton even got to spend the day with Jarret Guarantano, a University of Tennessee quarterback who says that Keaton is “the little brother I always wanted!”
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But what should have been an unbelievably happy ending to a story about bullying became surprisingly complicated once people started digging around in Keaton’s family. First, there were imposter accounts on social media encouraging people to donate to a GoFundMe page for Keaton.
The account holder in question was pretending to be Keaton’s mother, and according to MMA fighter Joe Schilling, she made a racist remark when he reached out to her in support of her son. GoFundMe has since deleted that fundraiser, saying that the person who created it couldn’t be confirmed as a member of Keaton’s family.
Imposters cashing in on viral content isn’t exactly unheard of in this day and age, but neither is a little internet sleuthing. The internet is forever, as they say, and not everyone who was initially touched by Jones’ story remained so after seeing what his mother Kimberly posted on accounts that have been confirmed as belonging to her.
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Understandably, many were shocked and offended by Kimberly’s fondness for the Confederate flag, the penultimate symbol of a divided country where many supported and relied upon slavery. Rumors even spread that young Keaton himself was a bully who had used racial epithets against his classmates.
Singer Rihanna took down her post in support of Keaton, replacing it with a tribute to two young girls who recently committed suicide after being bullied.
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Jones denies that she is racist, although the whole situation just gets more befuddling as fake accounts and rumors continue to crop up. What is for sure is that it does highlight the fact that bullying impacts children from all backgrounds.
Hopefully, the core message behind what attracted so many people to Keaton’s plight can survive the controversy, and he won’t suffer further bullying because of the choices his mother has made. As Kimberly told CNN, “You’ve got to be really careful with what you take and what you give because we share this world.”