Becoming a Web Celeb (9-12)

What does it mean to become an Internet celebrity?

Students reflect on the possibilities and perils of an online world in which anyone can become a celebrity overnight.

Students analyze the journeys of real “Web celebs,” including some of the harsh comments they’ve received online, and recognize how these comments may affect other viewers as well as their targets. Students then engage in a discussion about gender roles, thinking critically about the different pressures men and women may face in the public eye.

Students will be able to ... 

  • evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of becoming an online celebrity, using case studies to frame and support their arguments.
  • identify the different kinds of criticism that men and women receive as they gain public attention, and how this reflects broader gender roles.
  • discuss the impact that negative comments can have on both their targets and their viewers.

Materials and Preparation

  • Review the Gender and Digital Life Teacher Backgrounder (High School)
  •  Preview the Dude Perfect™ website, along with the YouTube video, “Dude Perfect™ | Backyard Edition | Our 1st Video!”
  •  Preview the video, “Rebecca Black Video Case Study” and prepare to show it to students 
  • Copy the Don’t Be a Hater Student Handout, one for each student
  • Review the Don’t Be a Hater Student Handout — Teacher Version

Teaching Plans


Warm-up (5 minutes)

ASK: What does it take to become famous online?
Consider writing students’ responses on the board. You may wish to discuss the following factors associated with becoming famous: talent, looks, timing, luck, strategy, visibility, networking, advertising.

ASK: Do you think the factors for Internet fame are different for men than they are for women? Guide students to build their own set of criteria and definitions. Encourage them to recognize that men and women might be judged differently online, just as they are in the offline world.)

TELL students that, as a class, you are going to explore the experience of becoming a “Web celeb.” You are also going to explore whether men and women experience attention, fame, and criticism differently.


teach 1

Rising to Internet Fame (10 minutes)

DEFINE the Key Vocabulary terms Internet meme and viral.

ASK students to raise their hands if they have ever heard of Dude Perfect™. Invite students to describe the group to the rest of the class. (Dude Perfect™ is a group of guys who became famous through YouTube for their backyard basketball trick shots. After being featured in a local news story, their YouTube channel went viral and soon gained national recognition. The guys are now sponsored by GMC and the NBA, have their own online merchandise and iPhone game, and even published a book about their journey to fame.)

SHOW students “Dude Perfect™ | Backyard Edition | Our 1st Video!” to give them a sense of the group.

SHOW students Dude Perfect™’s website, specifically their page “Goals." This page illustrates many of the upsides of Dude Perfect™’s rise to fame.

DISCUSS with students the benefits of being able to share one’s talents and passions online and have them seen by others. Ask students to provide examples of “Web celebs” or even lesser known people who have inspired them online (bloggers, vloggers, etc.). Use this as a springboard for discussing the appeal of receiving widespread attention online.

INVITE students to share their own experiences creating and posting videos online. What made them post the video? Who did they imagine would see the video? Did the video receive comments or feedback? If so, were they positive or negative and how did the comments make them feel?

teach 2

Web Celeb Case Study -- Rebecca Black (10 minutes)

ARRANGE students into groups of three or four. 

SHOW students the video, “Rebecca Black Video Case Study.”

INSTRUCT each group to discuss the following questions, encouraging them to take notes:

  • What are some positive aspects of Rebecca’s road to fame? What are some negative aspects? (On the positive side, Rebecca’s video gave her the opportunity to express herself and showcase her creativity. It also made her famous -- whether or not people truly liked her video. On the negative side, Rebecca was heavily teased and bullied for her video. Many people do not take her singing career seriously.) 
  • To what extent did the backlash that Rebecca experienced have anything to do with gender? If so, how? (Students may be quick to defend Rebecca’s critics, finding fault in the way she looks, sings, and acts. But encourage students to also analyze Rebecca’s experience from a broader perspective. What kinds of expectations do we place on girls, especially those in the spotlight? Are there double standards for things like apprearance, body image, and talent?) 

INVITE students to share their reactions to the "Rebecca Black Video Case Study," as well as their answers to the reflection questions you posed.  

teach 3

Fame, Backlash and Gender Roles (15 minutes)

DISTRIBUTE the Don’t Be a Hater Student Handout.

INSTRUCT students to work in their groups to complete the activity on the handout. Allow about five minutes for them to do so. 

HAVE students share their responses to the matching game on the handout. Refer to the Don’t Be a Hater Student Handout — Teacher Version for the correct answers. 

READ aloud the YouTube comments that were directed at Rebecca Black and Karmin.

ASK: Do you feel that people make comments to bring down women online? If so, in what ways? What are some common trigger words for criticizing women online?
Guide students to recognize that people commonly criticize or bully women by insulting their appearance, weight, and/or sexual appeal.

READ aloud the YouTube comments that were directed at Justin Bieber, Ryan Hyaga, and Fred Figgelhorn. 

ASK: Do you feel that people make comments to bring down men online? If so, in what ways? What are some common trigger words for criticizing men online?
Guide students to recognize that people commonly criticize or bully men by challenging their masculinity or sexuality. These kinds of comments also devalue women, because calling a man a “girl” is meant to carry a negative connotation.

DEFINE the Key Vocabulary term gender roles.

DISCUSS how criticism and hate speech directed at people online can reveal broader social attitudes about gender roles. Men and women arguably face different pressures to look and act certain ways — especially in the public eye.

ENCOURAGE students to discuss who is affected by negative online comments. Guide students to recognize that these comments can have an impact on everyone who reads them, not just on their targets. Have them reflect on how these negative comments might reinforce narrow ideas about how girls and guys are supposed to look and act — and can even make readers feel bad about themselves. Such comments can also discourage others — especially girls — from showcasing their interests or talents online. For this reason, students may want to consider whether negative comments are a form of online bullying.


Wrap-up (5 minutes)

You can use these questions to assess your students’ understanding of the lesson objectives. You may want to ask students to self-reflect in writing for one of the questions; use journals or an online blog/wiki.

ASK: How has the Internet changed the way we think about, and experience, fame? Are there upsides to becoming famous online? Are there downsides?
On the positive side, the Internet allows us to discover and support talented people who may never have had the opportunity to become known otherwise. On the negative side, videos can become viral through ridicule and mockery. The Internet provides a public platform for critics and “haters” to rag on people they don’t like.

ASK: Do you feel that people bring down, or criticize, women online? How about men?
Women are often critiqued more for their weight, appearance, and sexual attractiveness than men. When people criticize or try to intimidate men, they commonly challenge their masculinity or sexuality.

ASK: How might negative online comments affect people who read them? Do you think they can reinforce certain gender roles?
For example, when girls see other girls being criticized online for their weight, appearance, sexual attractiveness, behavior, etc., it may make them feel self-conscious or negative about their own appearance or abilities. The same can be true for guys.

Extension Activity

Have students work in groups to develop a video case study or a presentation on one of the "Web celebs" listed on the Don’t Be a Hater Student Handout, similar to the video case study they watched during the lesson about Rebecca Black. (Remind students to provide proper credit for any video files, songs, or images they use.) Students should research the celeb’s path to fame, and analyze the kind of feedback that person has received from followers. Does the feedback have anything to do with gender? Have students post their reflections to a class blog or wiki, or reflect in a journal. 

Note: Teachers should be aware that students may come across inappropriate or offensive language within the comment section of online videos. However, this content may also provide valuable insight into the kind of hate speech that both men and women experience online. Decide what’s best for you and your students.

At-Home Activity

Have students read the article, “Meet Conan O’Brien’s Twitter Friend, Sarah Killen: ‘My Life Has Already Changed!’” Students should put themselves in Sarah’s shoes and imagine how sudden fame could change a teen’s life — in both positive and negative ways. What would they do if they were in Sarah’s shoes? Have students post their reflections to a class blog or wiki, or reflect in a journal.

Alignment with Standards

Common Core & NETS•S
Common Core State Standards Initiative ©2012 & National Educational Technology Standards for Students ©2007, International Society for Technology in Education

Common Core:

  • grades 9-10: RI.1, RI.2, RI.4, RI.7, RI.10, SL.1a, SL.1b, SL.1c, SL.1d, SL.2, SL.4, SL.5, SL.6, L.6
  • grades 11-12: RI.1, RI.2, RI.4, RI.7, RI.10, SL.1a, SL.1b, SL.1c, SL.1d, SL.2, SL.4, SL.5, SL.6, L.6

NETS•S: 1a-c, 2a-b, 2d, 3a-d, 4a-d, 5a-d, 6a-b, 6d