Going Viral

From BaneCat to #Kony2012, or baby panda sneezes to the urban legend of Richard Gere and the Gerbil, it’s not crazy to say that anything from the depths of the Internet can explode into a worldwide phenomena. “Going Viral” isn’t just for anyone; it’s reserved for the select few whose originality or authenticity is able to relate and identify with a massive amount of people. BUT did you know that not all virality— the rapid circulation of a piece of content among Internet users– is organic?

Yes yes, there are actually 5 Types of Virality but all of them have one primary goal: inception


I know you’re probably saying “that’s just a movie, Syd.” To which I say: well is it…? Author of “The 5 Types of Virality,” Josh Elman explains:

“The goal of all viral efforts is to insert (or “incept”) an idea of what a product can do into someone else’s head, and to get them so excited about it they want to try it and use it. That’s the most important component of any type of virality.”

Therefore I’m going to use Josh Elman’s assertion to look at the case of a tweet gone viral; a tweet that achieved such a level of virality that it impacted the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Donald Trump’s assertion that there were “3 million illegal voters” participating in the election actually originated from an offhand, unsubstantiated tweet from @JumpVote which just happened to explode.

Watch John Oliver’s 1 minute explanation. Or even the full episode (I highly recommend it).

Besides the anomaly that is Chewbacca Mom, virality is achieved when content is picked up by a key influencer, in this case the conservative right-wing radio show InfoWars, and later the Republican candidate for president.

Trump’s sphere of influence online, just through social media, is 24.9 million followers— not even including his insurmountable amount of free press coverage. Therefore, every user following an account in Trump’s sphere of influence becomes “impressionable,” and are more likely to be exposed to his content if the follower in the sphere of influence interacts with him online. The more followers in his sphere of influence that an impressionable viewer is following, the more likely they’re to see him Twitter’s added-content in their newsfeed.

A recent article by RedCode’s Kurt Wagner explained how Twitter’s new algorithm makes choices for its placed content:

“Sources familiar with the update say Twitter’s algorithm searches for popular tweets in your “social graph,” marked by actions like favorites and retweets. But it’s not showing you those tweets specifically because of one of your pal’s actions — it’s showing it to you because lots of your pals have shown interest in that tweet.”

Adding content that more of the people you follow to your feed also promotes group mentality. The New York Times Magazine article helps explain further with an independent study conducted on the impact of group influence on social media content trends.

“Introducing social influence into human decision making [through the promotion of commonly shared content on social media]… made the hits bigger; it also made them more unpredictable.”

Considering virality is ultimately used to provoke action on an idea, combined with Donald Trump’s proliferation on social media, the implications of the amount of impressionable viewers this statement ultimately reached are absolutely staggering and influencer voter beliefs and Trump’s policy in his administration’s first 100 days.


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