Viral phenomenon

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Viral phenomena are objects or patterns that are able to replicate themselves or convert other objects into copies of themselves when these objects are exposed to them. They get their name from the way that viruses propagate. This has become a common way to describe how thoughts, information, and trends move into and through a human population.The "viral media" is a common term called whose popularity has been fueled by the rapid rise of social network sites alongside declining advertising rates and an extremely fragmented audience for broadcast media.[1] Different from the "spreadable media", "viral media" uses viral metaphors of "infection" and "contamination", which means that audiences play as passive carriers rather than an active role to "spread" contents.[2] Memes are possibly the best-known example of informational viral patterns.


The 1992 novel Snow Crash explores the implications of an ancient memetic meta-virus and its modern-day computer virus equivalent:

The spread of viral phenomena are also regarded as part of the cultural politics of network culture or the virality of the age of networks.[3] Network culture enables the audience to create and spread viral content. "Audiences play an active role in "spreading" content rather than serving as passive carriers of viral media: their choices, investments, agendas, and actions determine what gets valued."[4] Various authors have pointed to the intensification in connectivity brought about by network technologies as a possible trigger for increased chances of infection from wide-ranging social, cultural, political, and economic contagions. For example, the social scientist Jan van Dijk warns of new vulnerabilities that arise when network society encounters "too much connectivity." The proliferation of global transport networks makes this model of society susceptible to the spreading of biological diseases. Digital networks become volatile under the destructive potential of computer viruses and worms. Enhanced by the rapidity and extensiveness of technological networks, the spread of social conformity, political rumor, fads, fashions, gossip, and hype threatens to destabilize established political order.[5]

On the left wing, in their book Empire, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have argued that the age of globalization is synonymous with the age of contagion. This is an age in which increased contact with the "Other" has rekindled anxieties concerning the spreading of disease and corruption since permeable boundaries of the nation-state can no longer function as a colonial hygiene shield. The spontaneity of contagious overspills thus has the potential to initiate a revolutionary renewal of global democracy.

On the right wing, the International Monetary Fund, and various capitalist leaders have pointed to the threat posed to the stability of the current neoliberal political–economic system by the capricious spreading of financial crises from nation to nation. Correlations have been made, for example, between the interlocking of global stock markets, the chaos of financial contagion, and the so-called Islamic threat to justify the ongoing War on Terror (Tony Blair's speech on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, for example)


Red Riding Hood, an example of a folktale

Definition of viral derived from science fiction "describing (generally bad) ideas that spread like germs."[6] That negative attitude to viral phenomena are supported by some scholars. "Ideas are transmitted, often without critical assessment, across a broad array of minds and this uncoordinated flow of information is associated with "bad ideas" or "ruinous fads and foolish fashions".[7] Douglas Rushkoff's (Media Virus) defined viral media as Trojan horse: "People are duped into passing a hidden agenda while circulating compelling content."[6] The negative connotation of viral phenomena has not been rid of.

The way in which Viral Phenomenon spreads can linked back to the way Folk stories were spread throughout society. A folktale is a story or legend creating a part of an oral tradition. Folktales in general are passed down from one generation to another and often take on the characteristics of the time and place in which they are told. Folktales speak to universal and timeless themes, and help people make sense of their existence and deal with the society that they live in.[8] For hundreds of years before the creation of the Internet, the only way for these stories to spread was through story telling from person to person, hence the phenomenon moved very slowly throughout society in comparison to today.

The basis of the Internet was created on January 1, 1983, and from there researchers began to assemble the "network of networks" that eventually became the modern Internet. The online world then took on a more recognizable form in 1990, when computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web.[9]

With the development and creation of the Internet, the ability for stories, pictures, videos and many other types of media spread at a faster rate in comparison to when the only way in which information was passed was either by word of mouth and in text. One of the first documented viral videos is "Numa Numa," the webcam video of then-19-year-old Gary Brolsma singing and dancing to Romanian pop song "Dragostea Din Tei".[10]

Since 2005, as the Internet and social media developed, the number of viral media has also grown exponentially.

Social media[edit]

Social media are Internet-based software and interfaces that allow individuals to interact with one another, exchanging details about their lives such as biographical data, professional information, personal photos and up-to-the-minute thoughts. Social media originated as strictly a personal tool that people used to interact with friends and family but were later adopted by businesses that wanted to take advantage of a popular new communication method to reach out to customers, for example, by informing them of sales and offering them special coupons.[11]

Social media plays a huge role in the spread of viral phenomena. Websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Vine all play a large roll in the ability for viral trends to spread rapidly. This is due to the ability to share the image or video with ease. This in turn allows it to spread rapidly. "Viral media a term whose popularity has been fueled by the rapid rise of social network sites alongside declining advertising rates and an extremely fragmented audience for broadcast media."[6] The help of social media has allowed images and videos to become 'overnight' sensations.

Another viral media that is often passed from person to person on social media is viral emails. Viral emails may arise in various situations, however the process is simple: an individual receives an email, often (but not exclusively) of a political or humorous nature, he or she forwards the email to their friends. They do the same, and thus they rapidly spread the email, in potentially worldwide proportion.[12]

The process of spreading viral emails is similar to that of an email chain letter, but typically without the explicit requirement to pass it along that is a common part of the chain letter model. A common commercial application for viral emails is that of the viral advertising campaigns. These viral emails often are composed of hoaxes and urban legends.

An email hoax is a scam that is distributed in email form. It is designed to deceive and defraud email recipients, often for monetary gain.[13]

Urban legends are false stories that circulate throughout the culture, often spread via email or word of mouth. Like hoaxes, they are examples of falsehoods that people swallow, and, like them, often achieve broad public notoriety. The difference is that urban legends are unintentionally deceptive, whereas hoaxes are intentionally so.[14]

Viral videos[edit]

Viral videos are among the most common type of viral phenomena. A viral video is any clip of animation or film that is spread rapidly through online sharing. Viral videos can receive millions of views as they are shared on social media sites, reposted to blogs, sent in emails and so on. When a video goes viral it has become very popular. Its exposure on the Internet grows exponentially as more and more people discover it and share it to others. An article or an image can also become viral.[15]

The classification is probably assigned more as a result of intensive activity and the rate of growth among users in a relatively short amount of time than of simply how many hits something receives. Most viral videos contain humor and fall into three broad categories:

  • Unintentional viral videos: Videos that the creators never intended to go viral. These videos may have been posted by the creator or shared with friends, who then spread the content.
  • Humorous viral videos: Videos that have been created specifically to entertain people. If a video is funny enough, it will spread.
  • Promotional viral videos: Videos that are designed to go viral with a marketing message to raise brand awareness. Promotional viral videos fall under viral marketing practices.[16] For instance, one of the newest viral commercial video – Extra Gum commercial.
  • Charity viral videos: Videos created and spread in order to collect donations. For instance, Ice Bucket challenge was the hit on social networks in the summer of 2014.
  • Art performances turned to viral videos: a video created by artists to raise the problem, express ideas and the freedom of creativity. For instance, First Kiss viral video by Tatia PIlieva;
  • Political viral videos: Viral videos are the powerful tool for politicians to boost their popularity. Barack Obama campaign launched Yes We Can slogan as a viral video on YouTube. "The Obama campaign posted almost 800 videos on YouTube, and the McCain campaign posted just over 100. The pro-Obama video "Yes we can" went viral after being uploaded to YouTube on February 2008."[17] Other political viral videos are served not as a promotion but as an agent for support and unification. Social media was activily empowered in Arab Spring. "The Tunisian uprising had special resonance in Egypt because it was prompted by incidents of police corruption and viral social media condemnation of them."[18]

YouTube's effect[edit]

With the creation of YouTube, in 2005 there has been a huge surge in the number of viral videos on the internet. This is primarily due to the ease of access to these videos. The ability to share videos from one person to another with ease means there are many cases of 'overnight' viral videos. "YouTube, which makes it easy to embed its content elsewhere) have the freedom and mobility once ascribed to papyrus, enabling their rapid circulation across a range of social networks." [19] YouTube has overtaken television in terms of the size of audience. As one of example American Idol was the most-viewable TV show in 2009 in U.S. while "A video of Scottish woman Susan Boyle auditioning for Britain's Got Talent was viewed more than 77 million times on YouTube." The capacity to attract enormous audience in friendly-using platform is one the leading factor why YouTube generates viral videos. YouTube contribute to viral phenomen spreadability since the idea of platform is based on sharing and contribution. "Sites such as YouTube, EBay, Facebook, Flickr, Craigslist, and Wikipedia, only exist and have value because people use and contribute to them, and they are clearly better the more people are using and contributing to them. This is the essence of Web 2.0."[20]

An example of one of the most prolific viral YouTube videos that falls into the promotional viral videos category is "Kony 2012" On March 5, 2012, the charity organization Invisible Children Inc. posted a short film about the atrocities committed in Uganda by Joseph Kony and his rebel army. It was a campaign with the intent to raise awareness of the need to bring Kony and his army to a stop, Kony is believed to have kidnapped and enslaved around 66,000 children since the late 1980s. Famous artists use YouTube as their one of the main branding and communication platform to spread videos and make them viral. For instance, after the break Adele broke YouTube records coming back with the rapidly growing most-viewed song Hello. "Hello"crossed 100 million views in just five days, making it the fastest video to reach it in 2015."[21] YouTube viral videos make stars. As an example Justin Bieber who was discovered since his video on YouTube Chris Brown's song "With You" went viral." Since its launch in 2005, YouTube has become a hub for aspiring singers and musicians. Talent managers look to it to find budding pop stars."[22]

According to Visible Measures, the original "Kony 2012" video documentary, and the hundreds of excerpts and responses uploaded by audiences across the Web, collectively garnered 100 million views in a record six days.[23] This example of how quickly the video spread emphasizes how YouTube acts as a catalyst in the spread of viral media.

YouTube is considered as "multiple existing form of participatory culture" and that trend is useful for the sake of business. "The discourse of Web 2.0 its power has been its erasure of this larger history of participatory practices, with companies acting as if they were "bestowing" agency onto audiences, making their creative output meaningful by valuing it within the logics of commodity culture."[24]


Lauren Ancel Meyers, a biology professor at the University of Texas, explained that

"memes spread through online social networks similarly to the way diseases do through offline populations."

Richard Dawkins coined the term 'meme' in his 1976 book, "The Selfish Gene." As conceived by Dawkins, a meme is a unit of cultural meaning, such as an idea or a value, that is passed from one generation to another. A meme is the cultural counterpart to the unit of physical heredity, the gene.[25] An Internet meme is a cultural phenomenon that spreads from one person to another through the use of the internet. Through the spread of meme, it shows the dispersion of cultural movements, especially when seemingly innocuous or trivial trends spread and die in rapid fashion. When the meme pool is overflowing with ideas, being able to create a meme seems to promise anyone the chance to ride the waves of participatory culture. Besides, a meme can also be a tool for creativity and production.[26] A meme can take the for of anything that can be voluntarily shared, including phrases, images, rumors and audio or video files. An Internet meme might originate and stay online. However, frequently memes cross over and may spread from the offline world to online or vice-versa.

Some examples of viral Internet memes include:

  • Video: The Crazy Frog video/ "Chocolate Rain" Original Song by Tay Zonday / Magibon
  • Images: Images of then-president George Bush falling off a Segway in 2003. (This meme sparked follow-up videos of various vertebrates successfully riding the vehicles, including Barbara Bush and a chimpanzee.)
  • Others: The 25 random things about me list that propagated throughout Facebook.

Viral marketing[edit]

The term 'viral marketing' was first popularized in 1995, After hotmail spreading their service offer "Get your free web-base email at Hotmail"[27] Viral marketing is the phenomena when people actively assess media or content and decide to spread to others such as making a word-of-mouth recommendation, passing content through social media, posting video to YouTube.

Viral Marketing has become important in business field in building brand recognition. numbers of company try to get their customers and other audiences involve in circulating and shaping their content on social media both in voluntary and involuntary way. A lot of brand does guerrilla marketing or buzz marketing to gain public attention. Some marketing campaigns seek to engage audience to unwittingly pass along their campaign message.

The use of viral marketing is shifting from the concept that the content drives its own attention to the intended attempt to draw the attention. The companies are worried about making their content 'go viral' and how their customers' communication has the potential to circulate it widely.

There has been a lot of discussion about morality in doing viral marketing. Iain Short (2010) points out that many applications on twitter and Facebook generates automated marketing message and update it on audience personal timeline without users personally pass it along.[28]

Stacy Wood from North Carolina State University has conducted a research and found that value of people recommendation from 'everyday people' has potential impact on the brands. Consumers has been bombarded by thousands of message everyday which make authenticity and credibility of marketing message been questioned, word of mouth from 'everyday people' therefore become incredibly important source of credible information.

If company sees that the word-of-mouth from "the average person" is crucial for the greater opportunity for influencing others,many questions remain. "What implicit contracts exist between brands and those recommenders? What moral codes and guidelines should brands respect when encouraging, soliciting, or reacting to comments from those audiences they wish to reach? What types of compensation, if any, do audience members deserve for their promotional labor when they provide a testimonial."[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, Joshua Green (2013). Spreadable Media. NYU Press. p. 17. ISBN 0-8147-4390-0. 
  2. ^ Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, Joshua Green (2013). Spreadable Media. NYU Press. p. 21. ISBN 0-8147-4390-0. 
  3. ^ Sampson, Tony D (2012-08-01). "Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Contagion (University of Minnesota Press, 2012)". Retrieved 2012-06-07. 
  4. ^ Henry Jenkins; Sam Ford; Joshua Green (2013). Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York: NYU Press. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-8147-4350-8. 
  5. ^ Marzouki, Yousri; Oullier, Olivier. "Revolutionizing Revolutions: Virtual Collective Consciousness and the Arab Spring". The Huffington Post US. Retrieved 17 July 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c Jenkins, Henry; Ford, Sam; Green, Joshua (2013). Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York: NYU PRESS. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-8147-4350-8. 
  7. ^ Jenkins, Henry; Ford, Sam; Green, Joshua (2013). Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York: NYU PRESS. p. 307. ISBN 978-0-8147-4350-8. 
  8. ^ "Famous American Folktales & Stories from A to Z". Retrieved 2015-11-04. 
  9. ^ "Who invented the internet? - Ask History". Retrieved 2015-11-04. 
  10. ^ McCarthy, A. J. (2014-12-05). ""Numa Numa," the Original Viral Video, Turns 10". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 2015-11-04. 
  11. ^ "Social Media Definition". Investopedia. Retrieved 2015-11-03. 
  12. ^ Smith, David. "Viral email rocks the world". the Guardian. Retrieved 2015-11-04. 
  13. ^ "What is an Email Hoax? - Definition from Techopedia". Retrieved 2015-11-04. 
  14. ^ "Hoaxipedia: What is a hoax?". Retrieved 2015-11-04. 
  15. ^ "What is a Viral Video?". Retrieved 2015-11-04. 
  16. ^ "What is a Viral Video? - Definition from Techopedia". Retrieved 2015-11-03. 
  17. ^ Tom Broxton; Yannet Interian; Jon Vaver; Mirjam Wattenhofer (2013). "Catching a viral video, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 241–259". SpringerLink. Journal of Intelligent Information Systems. 
  18. ^ Lee Rainie; Barry Wellman (2013). Networked: The New Social Operating System. MIT Press. p. 208. ISBN 978-0-262-52616-6. 
  19. ^ Henry Jenkins; Sam Ford; Joshua Green (2013). Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York: NYU Press. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-8147-4350-8. 
  20. ^ David Gauntlett (2011). "Making is Connecting: The social meaning of creativity, from DIY and knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0" (PDF). Polity Press. Retrieved 2015. 
  21. ^ "YouTube Trends: 'Hello' Joins List of Fastest Videos to Reach 100M Views". Retrieved 2015-11-20. 
  22. ^ Lee Rainie; Barry Wellman (2013). Networked: The New Social Operating System. The MIT Press. p. 215. ISBN 978-0-262-52616-6. 
  23. ^ "The 5 Most Successful Viral Videos Ever". Retrieved 2015-11-04. 
  24. ^ Henry Jenkins; Sam Ford; Joshua Green (2013). Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York: NYU Press. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-8147-4350-8. 
  25. ^ "What is Internet meme? - Definition from". Retrieved 2015-11-04. 
  26. ^ Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, Joshua Green (2013). Spreadable Media: Creating value and meaning in a networked culture. NYU Press. pp. 19, 27. ISBN 0-8147-4390-0. 
  27. ^ Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, Joshua Green (2013). Spreadable media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York: New York University Press. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-8147-4350-8. 
  28. ^ Short, Iain (2010). "Viral Marketing vs. Spreadable Media.". 
  29. ^ Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, Joshua Green (2013). spreadable media. New York University Press. p. 75.