Viral video

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A viral video is a video that becomes popular through the process of Internet sharing, typically through video sharing websites, social media and email.[citation needed] Viral videos often contain humorous content and include televised comedy sketches, such as The Lonely Island's "Lazy Sunday" and "Dick in a Box", Numa Numa[1][2] videos, The Evolution of Dance,[3] Chocolate Rain[4] on YouTube; and web-only productions such as I Got a Crush... on Obama.[5] Some eyewitness events have also been caught on video and have "gone viral"[6] such as the Battle at Kruger.[7] More recently the video by Invisible Children, Inc. named Kony 2012 became the most viral video in history[8] with over 32,000,000[citation needed] views within its first week since its upload on 5 March 2012 and has been viewed more than 90,000,000 times as of 13 June 2012.

With the proliferation of camera phones,[9] many videos are being shot by amateurs on these devices. The availability of inexpensive video editing and publishing tools allows video shot on mobile phones to be edited and distributed virally, by email or website, and between phones by Bluetooth or MMS. These consumer-shot videos are typically non-commercial, intended for viewing by friends or family. A video becoming viral is often unexpected, and an accident, and therefore a video cannot be called viral purely in the creator's intention at the time of recording.



The behaviors behind viral videos, where ideas and news spread between individuals through dialogue, have been present in society since prehistoric times and form part of the foundation of culture.[citation needed] These behaviours are studied by the sociological fields of memetics and semiotics. Word of mouth marketing has long exploited the credibility of personal recommendations, and viral videos also benefit from this effect.

Viral videos began circulating before the major video sharing sites such as YouTube, Funny or Die and CollegeHumor, by e-mail sharing. One of these early videos was "The Spirit of Christmas" which surfaced in 1995.[10] In 1996 "Dancing Baby" appeared.[10][11] This video was released as samples of 3D character animation software. Ron Lussier, the animator who cleaned up the raw animation, began passing the video around LucasArts, his workplace at the time.[12] A particularly well-known early example was "All your base are belong to us," based on a poorly translated video game, which was first distributed as a GIF animation and became popular in the year 2000.[13]

Viral videos' staying power relies on hooks which draw the audience to watch them. The hooks are able to become a part of the viral video culture after being shown repeatedly. The hooks, or key signifiers,[clarification needed What are "key signifiers"?] are not able to be predicted before the videos become viral.[14]

More recently, there has been a surge in viral videos on video sharing sites such as YouTube, and the availability of affordable digital cameras.[15] Due to these sites, many of the traditionally shared videos have been phased out, though some early examples have been added to the mainstream sites.[citation needed]

Social impact

Internet celebrities

Video websites such as YouTube often create Internet celebrities, individuals who have attracted significant publicity in their home countries from their videos.[16]

Geriatric1927, is a pensioner from England, born in 1927, who gained widespread recognition within a week of making his debut on the site.[17] For these users, Internet fame has had various unexpected effects. YouTube user and former receptionist Brooke Brodack has been signed by NBC's Carson Daly for an 18-month development contract.[18]

Band and music promotion

YouTube has become a means of promoting bands and their music. Many independent musicians, as well as large companies such as Universal Music Group, use YouTube to promote videos.[19]

A video broadcasting the Free Hugs Campaign, with accompanying music by the Sick Puppies, led to instant fame for both the band and the campaign,[20][21] with more campaigns taking place in different parts of the world. The main character of the video, Juan Mann, achieved recognition after being interviewed on Australian news programs and appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show.


Viral videos continue to increase in popularity as teaching and instructive aids. In March 2007, an elementary school teacher, Jason Smith, created TeacherTube, a website for sharing educational videos with other teachers. The site now features over 54,000 videos.[22] Some college curricula are now using viral videos in the classroom as well. Northwestern University offers a course called "YouTubing 101". The course invites students to produce their own viral videos, focusing on marketing techniques and advertising strategies.[23]

Customer complaints

"United Breaks Guitars", by the Canadian folk rock music group Sons of Maxwell, is an example of how viral videos can be used by consumers to pressure companies to settle complaints.[24] Another example is Brian Finkelstein's video complaint to Comcast, 2006. Finkelstein recorded a video of a Comcast technician sleeping on his couch. The technician had come to repair Brian's modem but had to call Comcast's central office and fell asleep after being placed on hold waiting for Comcast.[25][26][27]


The Canadian high school student known as Star Wars Kid was subjected to significant harassment and ostracizing after the viral success of his video. His family accepted a financial settlement after suing the individuals responsible for posting the video online.[28]

In July 2010, an 11-year-old girl with the pseudonym "Jessi Slaughter" was subjected to a campaign of harassment and cyberbullying following the viral nature of videos she had uploaded to Stickam and YouTube. As a result of the case, the potential for cyberbullying as a result of viral videos was widely discussed in the media.[29][30][31]

Legal implications

Viral videos that do not feature original content often violate copyright laws. Users frequently upload television, movie and music clips onto popular viral websites like YouTube. The use of copyrighted material has caused several problems in the entertainment industry. The most notable incident occurred following the release of "Lazy Sunday", the popular digital short that appeared on NBC's Saturday Night Live. Within hours fans posted the video onto YouTube, where it received a substantial number of hits. NBC then released an order to remove all reproductions of Lazy Sunday from YouTube and other websites, claiming that the postings constituted copyright infringement under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.[32] In some cases, copyrighted material in viral videos may be used legally, either with a license or under the doctrine of fair use or fair dealing; for example, many videos featuring only brief clips are likely to fall under these legal exceptions.

Political implications

The 2008 United States presidential election showcased the impact of political viral videos. For the first time, YouTube hosted the CNN-YouTube presidential debates, calling on YouTube users to pose questions. In this debate, the opinions of viral video creators and users were taken seriously. There were several memorable viral videos that appeared during the campaign. In June 2007, "I Got a Crush... on Obama", a music video featuring a girl claiming to have a crush on presidential candidate Barack Obama, appeared. Unlike previously popular political videos, it did not feature any celebrities and was purely user-generated. The video garnered many viewers and gained attention in the mainstream media.[33]

YouTube became a powerful source of campaigning for the 2008 Presidential Election. Every major party candidate had their own YouTube channel in order to communicate with the voters, with John McCain posting over 300 videos and Barack Obama posting over 1,800 videos. The music video, “Yes We Can,” by demonstrates user-generated publicity for the 2008 Presidential Campaign. The video depicts many celebrities as well as black and white clips of Barack Obama. This music video inspired many parodies and won an Emmy for Best New Approaches in Daytime Entertainment. [34]

The proliferation of viral videos in the 2008 campaign highlights the fact that people increasingly turn to the internet to receive their news. In a study for the Pew Research Center in 2008, approximately 2% of the participants said that they received their news from non-traditional sources such as MySpace or YouTube.[35] The campaign was widely seen as an example of the growing influence of the internet on United States politics; further evidenced by the founding of viral video producers like Brave New Films.[36]

Notable viral video sites

See also


  1. ^ Numa Numa has “…clocked up more than a billion views…” according to the The Guardian Newspaper
  2. ^ Guardian news reference to Numa Numa popularity:
  3. ^ Observer/Guardian newspaper mentions "Evolution of Dance" regarding how everyday people have become superstars (11 April 2010)
  4. ^ Fox News report about Numa Numa also mentions: ...fellow viral video star, 'Chocolate Rain Guy,' aka Tay Zonday (22 September 2010):
  5. ^ Crush on Obama mentioned by ABC news (13 June 2007):
  6. ^ Daily Mail uses the term "gone viral" regarding a "viral internet sensation" with over 1,145,000 hits (11 October 2010):
  7. ^ BBC News states "Almost 9.5m people have already watched the video, dubbed the Battle at Kruger, which was filmed by US tourist Dave Budzinski while he was on a guided safari."
  8. ^ Flock, Elizabeth (4 April 2012): "Kony 2012 screening in Uganda met with anger, rocks thrown at screen". Washington Post.
  9. ^ Jurgensen, John (24 September 2010). "Is Video Killing the Concert Vibe?" The Wall Street Journal
  10. ^ a b "The history of viral video". Tuscoloosa News. 6 June 2007. Retrieved 23 November 2009.
  11. ^ Lefevre, Greg (19 January 1998) "Dancing Baby cha-chas from the Internet to the networks". CNN: "Internet-savvy animation fans have known about The Dancing Baby for years; he populates hundreds of Web sites and has been the subject of untold numbers of e-mail missives."
  12. ^ Lussier, Ron (2005). "Dancing Baby FAQ". Burning Pixel Productions.
  13. ^ h2g2 (13 February 2007) "'All Your Base Are Belong To Us'" BBC: "The GIF slowly started to spread across the Internet, but it wasn't until 2000 that it properly gained popularity. By the end of the year, altered images of various road signs, cereal packets and other photographs containing the words 'All Your Base Are Belong To Us' had started to appear, and by 2001 the phenomenon was in full swing."
  14. ^ Burgess, Jean (2008).‘All Your Chocolate Rain Are Belong to Us?’ Viral Video, YouTube, and the Dynamics of Participatory Culture “Video Vortex Reader: Responses to YouTube”. Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam, pp. 101–109.
  15. ^ Grossman, Lev (24 April 2006). "How to get famous in 3500 seconds". Time Magazine.
  16. ^ Feifer, Jason (11 June 2006). "Video makers find a vast and eager audience". Worcester Telegram (Worcester, Massachusetts). Retrieved 27 July 2009.
  17. ^ Geriatric1927's YouTube profile
  18. ^ Collins, Scott, "Now she has their attention." Los Angeles Times, 19 July 2006. (Retrieved 19 July 2006)
  19. ^ "Universal Music Group".
  20. ^ 2006 YouTube Video Awards Free Hugs wins in "most inspirational" category. New York Times (27 March 2007): ...see also BBC
  21. ^ Free Hugs on The Oprah Winfrey Show (30 October 2006): "Thanks to a video on the website YouTube, Juan's movement is spreading worldwide—he is even organizing a global hug day!"
  22. ^ Katherine Leal Unmuth,
  23. ^ Wendy Leopold,
  24. ^ Jackson, Cheryl V. (9 July 2009). "Passenger uses YouTube to get United's attention". Chicago Sun-Times.,CST-NWS-united09.article. Retrieved 11 July 2009.
  25. ^ "The technician, in Washington, had arrived at Brian Finkelstein's home to replace a faulty modem and had to call in to Comcast's central office. Placed on hold just like powerless customers, the technician fell asleep after an hour of waiting. " (2 July 2006): New York Times
  26. ^ Sleepy Comcast technician gets filmed, then fired (26 June 2006)
  27. ^ "Finkelstein's ensuing video, complete with soundtrack ("I Need Some Sleep," by the Eels) and commentary on the company's poor equipment, high prices, and lousy customer service, quickly becomes a viral hit on the Web."
  28. ^
  29. ^ 'Jessi Slaughter' YouTube Cyberbully Case: 11-Year-Old Tells GMA She Didn't Want it to Go This Far, CBS News
  30. ^ Jessi Slaughter, nouvelle tête de turc du web américain, L'Express, France
  31. ^ Jessi Slaughter and the 4chan trolls – the case for censoring the internet,
  32. ^ Biggs, John (20 February 2006). "Media Talk; A Video Clip Goes Viral, and a TV Network Wants to Be the Only One to Spread It" (Web). The New York Times Company. Retrieved 20 October 2009.
  33. ^ Seelye, Katharine (15 June 2007). "A Hit Shows Big Interest in Racy Material – and Obama" (Web). The New York Times Company. Retrieved 20 October 2009.
  34. ^ Wallsten, Kevin (2010). “Yes We Can”: How Online Viewership, Blog Discussion, Campaign Statements, and Mainstream Media Coverage Produced a Viral Video Phenomenon, Journal of Information Technology and Politics.
  35. ^ "The Internet's Broader Role in Campaign 2008" (Web). Pew Research Center. 11 January 2008. Retrieved 25 November 2009.
  36. ^ Rutenberg, Jim (29 June 2008). "Political Freelancers Use Web to Join the Attack". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-25.

External links