The Dark Side of Virality

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The Dark Side of Virality

Oct 06, 2023

Proverbs 20:21 explains, “An inheritance claimed too soon will not be blessed at the end,” which captures the argument that going viral on the internet creates an unattainable lifestyle that can decrease the quality of life for an individual both physically and mentally.

Today, going viral typically means that videos, a piece of information, or even an individual is rapidly being talked about and shared on the internet by thousands to millions of individuals at a time. Going viral is what every creator, influencer, and business hopes to achieve in order to reach their goals of becoming famous or getting a higher level of monetization. By going viral, many individuals or businesses can increase their social and monetary status. Becoming “viral” is now something anyone with access to the Internet can do. Society tells the younger generations that anything is possible, which is true to an extent with the rise of explosive social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok; however, there is a lot more that goes into creating viral content than just luck. Furthermore, since access to these platforms and to the internet is “free,” it seems that there is no cost to achieving high numbers of followers, likes, or views, but nothing in the world is ever free. Most individuals do not understand that in order to go viral, the creator must introduce something completely unique and authentic at the right time, on the right platform, and in the correct style, which takes a lot of time and behind-the-scenes work that is not advertised by people who have already made it in the internet spotlight.

Over the years, we have grown numb to the dangers of viral content. The most blatant attacks on the physical health of individuals are from harmful trends portrayed as fun or exciting on the Internet. For example, videos that have people jumping off of concert stages or off the roofs of houses while intoxicated will get individuals a lot of views on social media; however, many of these videos have resulted in long-term physical problems and even death. Another example of a harmful trend is the cinnamon challenge, which encouraged individuals to film themselves trying to swallow a spoonful of cinnamon, which often resulted in the individuals inhaling the powder and poisoning themselves. One of the most infamous cases, known as the Blue Whale Challenge, started off with small and harmless tasks, but after an individual had completed a designated number of tasks, the users were challenged to kill themselves, which over one hundred individuals completed. Many individuals believe that they are too smart to fall for these types of challenges, but the reality is that anyone is able to be attacked by these continuously evolving and harmful trends at any time if they have access to a social media platform.

Looking at virality through the lens of an individual who signed as a model at the age of fifteen, there are a multitude of ways to speak about this topic. The most talked about discussion from virality is the issue of body dysmorphia, which can lead to eating disorders. Many women on these platforms compare themselves to other models and other women who get lots of attention, likes, shares, and followers from posting their bodies on social media. Everyone who works in the industry understands that images are edited and the amount of time and practice it takes to know exactly how to position your body to look the best. However, this does not eliminate the intense personal desire or monetary need to continue attempting to create viral content. As a model and social media influencer, I was getting the most likes, views, shares, and followers when I was sick and very small. My mental health had declined so much that I was a 5’7’ woman who was under one hundred pounds. However, even though I looked very sick in person, I looked the way society wanted me to look online. When your content is doing well, you will do anything to keep the momentum to get more followers and views, which directly correlates to the amount of job opportunities that you can get and the amount of money you can charge to monetize your account.

The never-ending cycle of chasing the next big trend is never completed until you give up. An individual will never be satisfied with anything less than their last highest view or like count. By looking at the end of the careers of the world’s biggest influencers and content creators, an individual can conclude that the creators stopped creating content soon after reaching the peak of their careers. The only way to get out of the cycle is to stop creating content completely. Many individuals who have reached their peak level of success can no longer create content because they cannot stand the fact it does not perform well, thus losing the adrenaline rush of the endeavor and the enjoyment the task once brought them. Chasing the approval of the masses, often referred to as wanting to go “ viral,” is like an inheritance claimed too soon that cannot last forever.

Ray Morris, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s media law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the following question: "The Dark Side of Virality: Unpack the concept of virality, its implications for creators, and the legal challenges that may come with sudden internet fame." Ray is an Integrated Marketing Communication major.

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