The video went viral

The internet is a credible democracy. The emergence of new forms of electronic media in the last 10 years has contributed to its democratic nature. Discussion has mainly focused on the impact of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and their impact on democracy. While the success of social networking is obvious by its popularity, these sites are also paving the way for a number of other mediums of communication and expression.

An example is viral videos, which have become popular through the link between social networking sites and video-sharing sites. The large quantity of videos shared online pose a problem for the Average Joe, who can’t decide whether a video is worth watching.

Instead, people rely on videos distributed from person to person through social networking sites, as well as other forms of person to person communication; such as blogs, e-mail, and instant messaging. The videos that become popular through this method of communication are commonly referred to as ‘viral’.

While the distribution of viral videos poses no problems, understanding why certain viral videos become popular requires a deeper analysis. Consulting Virality is a company that promotes content for viral regulars. The company’s marketing manager Dallin Smith thinks that emotion is the one thing which all viral content has in common.

Such a belief has been backed up with empirical evidence. America’s National Science Foundation conducted research in the area by recruiting 256 university students to watch one of ten hits on YouTube, and then asking them their feelings on it and whether they intended on forwarding it to others. The results of the study were in the form of an ‘arousal hierarchy’ where videos causing positive emotion were most likely to be forwarded. Videos which provoked negative emotions were found at the bottom of the hierarchy, but were still more likely to be shared with others than videos which had no emotional substance at all.

One of the more positive viral videos in the past couple of years has been ‘I’m farming and I grow it’, a video production about farming which was made by three Kansas youths. The video received more than eight million views by April 2013, and the three Kansas men behind it also appeared on American media shows.

Videos that play on issues or topics that are close to the heart of a nation will always stand a chance of going viral. One of the biggest viral videos in recent weeks is the video of a female protestor in Ukraine calling for democracy in her country in the midst of anarchy and turmoil. In it she labels the courts as corrupt and the politicians as dictators. As a result, the video has been viewed millions of times and attracted over a thousand comments.

If the aim of such videos is to try and attract mainstream attention, then it is certainly seems to be working. Research has shown that online political blogs may end up in broadcast news stories. In a 2007 survey of reporters from Kansas State University, 84 per cent of journalists stated that they use blogs as a source for their articles.

Aspiring musicians have also gone down the viral route in recent years. Rebecca Black rose to international fame in 2011 with her song ‘Friday’. Costing a mere $4,000 to produce, the video amassed 61 million YouTube views while also being dubbed the worst song in the world.

Furthermore, worldwide renditions of popular music have become one of the main themes in viral videos. Covers of Pharell Williams’ ‘Happy’ have been recorded from DCU to Moscow.

While viral videos can be empowering, informative, and serve as a source of entertainment, it is important to recognise when it is just a video.

Jason Russell’s video about a Ugandan War Criminal titled ‘Kony 2012’ acquired more than 70 million YouTube views. Soon after, Russell was held in custody on suspicion of running down a street naked and chanting about the devil. KONY’s 2012 rise and fall is testament to Smith’s statement that all viral videos are full of emotion. Perhaps it is our duty to know when to get caught up in this emotion and when not.

Brian Cunningham

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