A Nation Answers a Sobbing Boy’s Plea: ‘Why Do They Bully?’

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When Kimberly Jones picked up her son, Keaton, from school in Knoxville, Tenn., last week, he asked her to record a video of him in the car.

Keaton was going home early — not for the first time, Ms. Jones said — because he was afraid to have lunch at school. Classmates, he told his mother, had poured milk on him and stuffed ham in his clothes.

“They make fun of my nose,” he said in the video, which Ms. Jones posted on Facebook on Friday with a plea for parents to talk to their children about bullying. “They call me ugly. They say I have no friends.”

“Why do they bully? What’s the point of it? Why do you find joy in taking innocent people and finding a way to be mean to them?” he asked, sobbing. He added: “People that are different don’t need to be criticized about it. It’s not their fault.”

By Sunday evening, the video had been viewed 20 million times on Facebook alone, bringing attention to the stubborn problem of childhood bullying — and a flood of support for Keaton.

Much ink has been spilled about bullying in the internet age, but Keaton’s video underscored that the old-fashioned variety — the cafeteria taunts, the physical violence — is still very much alive.

Thousands of people, including many celebrities, wrote on social media that they, too, had been bullied and urged Keaton to stay strong.

Jarrett Guarantano, a quarterback at the University of Tennessee, posted a photo of himself with Keaton, whom he called his “new best bud.” Kelsea Ballerini, a country singer and Knoxville native, declared that the next time she was in town, she would “walk into that lunchroom with you and watch the bullies say they are sorry to you.” The “Stranger Things” actress Millie Bobby Brown, who is 13, tweeted, “I wanna be your friend.”

Delanie Walker, a tight end for the Tennessee Titans, offered Keaton and his family tickets to the team’s New Year’s Eve game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. In a short video, he read a poem attributed to Buddha and told Keaton, “You can be whoever you want to be.”

The actor LeVar Burton assured Keaton he was “not alone.” Chris Evans, who plays Captain America, offered tickets to the Los Angeles premiere of next year’s “Avengers” movie.

Keaton even got a message from Luke Skywalker.

“They’re just jealous because you’re so smart & handsome,” Mark Hamill, who plays Skywalker in the “Star Wars” movies, tweeted.

Ms. Jones did not respond to a Facebook message on Sunday requesting an interview with Keaton. She had posted on Saturday that she could not keep up with the thousands of messages pouring in.

“At the end of the day, this isn’t new for us, & we still have to truck on thru the day to day,” she wrote, adding, “I’m humbled by the voice my boy has been given, but he’s still just a little boy, & he’s a little boy who desperately wants acceptance.”

Public attention to bullying tends to come in waves, surging around cases like Keaton’s before falling off again. In some well-publicized cases in recent years, bullying has been so vicious that victims have killed themselves.

Multiple studies, including a 2008 review by researchers at Yale and another published in JAMA Pediatrics in 2014, have found a connection between bullying and suicide.

In his video, through his tears, Keaton told viewers: “If you are made fun of, just don’t let it bother you. Stay strong, I guess.”

“It’ll probably get better one day,” he said, sounding unconvinced.