Is ‘going viral’ viral or na?

I’ll preface this post by saying that I may touch on some hot buttons here.  Some political, some racial.  And I don’t apologize that for that.  But, bear with me.

I often think about that the phenomenon of “going viral” is doing to our society.  In my last post I touched on the value associated with one’s digital presence.  In today’s age, the image you portray, the breadth of network that you influence, and, referencing last week’s Ted Talks, the online reputation that you generate over time, all have value.  But, value can as much a positive as it can be a negative.  It is a responsibility not to be taken lightly.  The ability to rally other’s around a cause, a product, a shared interest, etc. is a double-edged sword.  While one’s digital presence can have the ability to support others and provide guidance or advice.  It can motivate others to push their own boundaries, to grow, and to help their fellow man.  But, that same digital influence can tap into our prejudices and insecurities.  It can feed on our fears.  It can erode our trust and faith in each other.  It can commandeer the brain and hijack the heart. Just like a virus.

Ideas are infectious. They are even more infectious when they are your own (or per Inception, you believe that they are your own).  Social media channels have given rise to the ability to spread ideas, to plant ideas, or steal and reshape ideas to thousands, if not millions, instantly.

While I agree with Professor Kane that Trump’s often uninformed, unedited, unprofessional, and ultimately unproductive Twitter banter deserves no more than 5 minutes of class time, I do wonder what is the forum in which his fire speech can be discussed. The fact is, for better or worse (worse) our President has successfully utilized social media to push forward his political agenda and to attack his opposition.  His roughly sixty million Twitter followers have unadulterated access to his stream of consciousness.  They read his opinions on everything from SNL satire to climate change to the infamous wall. I use the word “opinions” deliberately, as his Tweets are often not reviewed by his staff or members of his cabinet, nor are they consistently supported by facts.  Consistently is used loosely here.  And yet, they are consumed by his followers insatiably.  They stir the anxieties within us all related to our future and our safety.  They charge insecurities and unearth the subversive biases that we all have.  They have made discrimination in all its forms OK.

His opinions inform ideas.  Ideas that go viral.

Inception…

Now, the influence of viral social media is not all “bad.”  Viral videos are often funny or show the best side of humanity.  I personally tear up every time I watch a video of a member or armed forces return home to surprise a loved one at graduation or a football game. Videos of good Samaritans assisting the elderly or the less fortunate reminds me of humanity’s ability to care and to love.

While I will reserve my commentary on Facebook’s misuse as a political platform and targeted brainwashing tool by the far Right as discussed in the reading for another post, I think on the opening paragraphs about the employees defacement of the “Black Lives Matter” wall writing.  The BLM movement has not only had a direct impact on the visibility of social and racial issues that still permeate throughout America, it has also had secondary and tertiary effects on social media’s ability to make individual instances of injustice or prejudice go viral. Facebook and Twitter have allowed the creation of caricature-esque personifications of racism and ignorance, now known as “BBQ Becky” or “Cornerstore Caroline.”  These media channels have put a face to prejudice that is not only recognizable and consumable, but in some ways humorous in their level of disgraceful behavior.  Citizens are no longer judged just by their friends, their family, or even the police; they are judged by the digital masses whether they agree to the exposure or not.  So, is “going viral” viral, or na?  

You have my stance on this phenomenon. 

3 comments

  1. I appreciate that you decided to discuss non “pc” topics in this post. I think the hardest thing with Trump and his tweeting is the resounding “why doesn’t someones stop him from tweeting or deactivate his account”. The truth is that when Hillary and Barack created twitters to reach the masses and inform on meetings or topics we weren’t privy to everyone applauded them for their transparency.
    I too am in the “for worse” camp and have to admit I think I get so outraged by his viral tweets because 99% of the time I don’t agree with them.
    So to answer your question I think Viral is a yay or nay depending on if I actually want to hear what said person is preaching… or should I say tweeting.

  2. I really like this quote: “Ideas are infectious. They are even more infectious when they are your own (or per Inception, you believe that they are your own). Social media channels have given rise to the ability to spread ideas, to plant ideas, or steal and reshape ideas to thousands, if not millions, instantly.”

    I think the real danger of ideas going viral is that they are typically only spread and communicated within a group that is already inclined to believe in whatever the idea is. The echo chambers that are created when a person or group is/are perpetuating their own ideas prevents any outside influence and also prevents the person/group from learning and evolving. There’s no way to obtain perspective or become empathetic when you are simply echoing thoughts and ideas without challenging them to see if they withstand debate and scrutiny.

  3. While reading your post, I was reminded of a quote from Michael Shannon’s character in The Runaways: “It’s called press, not prestige.” I think virality fits squarely into the idea that amplification will inevitably produce notoriety – good, bad, or otherwise. It seems to play right into our egos and pushes us to produce, find, or share content that is so outrageous that you cannot help but notice it and, in all likelihood, send it out to your own microcosm of the masses. In my view, this type of click-mongering cheapens the true power of virality, which, when applied correctly, can be used to magnify the voices that either show us the best of our communities or alert us to things that need to be reformed. When we have to wade through a repetitive sea of useless, false, or outright dangerous content, we are less and less likely to pick up on content that actually deserves the viral title. Our perception of what is important or share-worthy becomes skewed.

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