YouTube officially launched in December 2005 as a simple way for people to easily share videos with each other. By July 2006, 100,000,000 videos were being viewed and 65,000 were being uploaded per day. On October 26, 2006, Google bought the company for $1.65 billion. Now the site reports over 2 billion videos are being viewed per day, and needless to say, it dramatically altered the way celebrities are created and information is transmitted via the internet.
Within the internet, various forms of media like pictures, videos, websites, and news stories are known to go viral. This is defined as "process which gives any information item (picture, video, text, or any other audio–visual–textual artifact) the maximum exposure, relative to the potential audience, over a short duration, distributed by many nodes" (Nahon et al. 2011: 1). There are websites dedicated to highlighting viral content such as The Daily What, BuzzFeed, reedit, and Cute Overload (my personal favorite). Social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook making sharing viral content easier than ever as well.
YouTube's Trend Manager Kevin Alloca says there are three reasons why videos go viral: 1. Tastemakers 2. Participation and 3. Unexpectedness. Tastemakers are those of significant importance who promote a video to a larger audience, be it through a Tweet, blog posting, or link on Facebook. In this video from the TED Talks series, he shows how a simple Tweet from comedian and late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel made the infamous "Double Rainbow" video a phenomenon. Participation involves users spreading the videos to others and usually at a very rapid rate. Unexpectedness refers to the nature of the video. For example, your friend might share with you the video "The Sneezing Baby Panda". What at first looks like a mother panda chomping on some bamboo ultimately surprises the viewer by featuring a tiny baby panda sneezing and startling the mother -- it's the unexpectedness that makes you want to share the video. Keep in mind this video has been viewed over 135 million times since November of 2006.
While many viral and YouTube videos involves kittens, puppies, babies, and Justin Bieber, there are also a great deal showcasing social inequalities, thus offering opportunities for social commentary. A few popular ones are featured in the video above. With the opportunity to comment on said videos and share via Facebook, it is easy to create a dialogue and discuss the bigger issues at hand.
Serious videos of poignant Senate hearings, personal confessions, and documentary-type shorts showcase current and debatable issues and are easily accessible to a large audience over the internet and through mobile devices and tablets. A perfect example of such a video and the impact it can create is the It Gets Better Project. After a string of suicides brought on by bullying of LGBTQ or perceived to be youth, syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller posted a simple and inspiring video on YouTube on September 21, 2010. They shared their own experiences with middle and high school bullying, but also recalled how much better their lives got after they graduated. They talked about growing up, coming out, and experiencing life in much more positive and accepting places. Dan and Terry retold the story of how they met and created a family with the adoption of their son. They also talked about how their families, who were initially resistant to their coming out, came around to loving them just the way they are. Dan and Terry wanted to provide hope to LGBTQ kids and teenagers all over the world who were scared and suffering so that they would not resort to taking their own lives.
Within a matter of what seemed like days, the It Gets Better Project exploded and a movement began. More than 40,000 videos have been posted and viewed more than 40 million times. Prominent celebrities such as Stephen Colbert and Ellen, television show casts, everyday normal people, politicians, and even President Obama posted videos assuring kids that it does get better. Since the project's launch, it has developed into a fully-functioning non-profit and advocacy organization, joined forces with The Trevor Project, published a book, and created an MTV special.
However, not all socially-aware viral videos deal with topics in such a serious matter. The parody song "Chow Down (At Chick-Fil-A)" features three drag queens singing about anti-gay sentiments behind the delicious fast-food chain Chick-fil-A. Sung to the tune of "Hold On" by Wilson Phillips, the drag queens lament on how "someday somebody’s gonna make you wanna gobble up a waffle fry" even though Chick-Fil-A says the gays "make the baby Jesus cry". Videos like these showcase social inequalities in a fun and catchy way (find more on the Chick-Fil-A video here)
YouTube user and comedienne Francesca Ramsey's "Shit White Girls Say...to Black Girls" tackles race and cultural sensitivities in a light-hearted and funny way as well. The video is a response to the popular series "Shit Girls Say." In an editorial for the Huffington Post, Ramsey writes, "Over the years I've found that dealing with white people faux pas can be tricky. If I get upset, I could quickly be labeled the 'angry black girl.' But if I don't say anything or react too passively, I risk giving friends and acquaintances permission to continue crossing the line. So I decided to create my own parody." In a way, her video acts as a "cultural guide" and how-to on sensitively dealing with cultural differences.
While I do enjoy and admit to sharing these videos, it is hard to tell if they really do result in change. I still believe they are beneficial. The ability to comment on such videos through various websites like Facebook and YouTube also create an easy way for users to start a dialogue and discuss the video's content. Hopefully valiant efforts like these really are making a difference.
Videos featured in the above clip:
Kevin Allocca: Why videos go viral
Shit White Girls Say...to Black Girls
It Gets Better: Dan and Terry
Telling My Dad I'm Gay-LIVE
Chow Down (At Chick-Fil-A)
Other favorite videos of mine that I could not include in my own video:
5-year-old needs a job before getting married
The Gay Rights Movement
It Gets Better: BD Wong
Joel Burns tells gay teens "it gets better"
Republican Chokes Up At Gay Marriage Debate In Washington
Sesame Street: Grover discusses What Is Marriage?
Zach Wahls Speaks About Family
2. Fifteen Minutes of Fame: The Power of Blogs in the Lifecycle of Viral Political Information
3. It Gets Better Project
4. From Meme to Social Commentary