Chattr: Viral Media

Last week I talked about the content of Chattr, and how much it’s changed since we started back in 2015. This week, I want to talk about the content that we NEED at Chattr, to make it popular and hit a large audience, and that’s Viral Content. Through my research of Viral Content, what I basically found is that while there’s a good way to see content that’s going viral early, no one really knows how to actually a viral video, which is totally reassuring!

One of the most common explanations is that media content now travels like a pandemic, spreading through audiences by infecting person after person who comes into contact with it. The term “viral” first appeared in science fiction stories, describing bad ideas that spread like germs.

Neal Stephenson’s science fiction novel Snow Crash explains this, “We are all susceptible to the pull of viral ideas. Like mass hysteria. Or a tune that gets into your head that you keep on humming all day until you spread it to someone else. Jokes. Urban Legends. Crackpot religions. Marxism. No matter how smart we get, there is always this deep irrational part that makes us potential hosts for self-replicating information” (1992)

Here, the viral is linked to the “irrational,” the public is described as “susceptible” to its “pull,” and participants become unknowing “hosts” of the information they carry across their social networks.

Douglas Rushkoff ’s 1994 book Media Virus argues that media material can act as a Trojan horse, spreading without the user’s conscious consent; people are duped into passing a hidden agenda while circulating compelling content.

“Media viruses spread the same way biological ones spread through the body or a community. But, instead of traveling along an organic circulatory system, a media virus travels through the networks. The “protein shell” of a media virus might be an event, invention, technology, system of thought, musical riff, visual image, scientific theory, sex scandal, clothing style or even a pop hero—as long as it can catch our attention. Once attached, the virus injects its more hidden agendas into the datastream in the form of ideological code—not genes, but an equivalent we now call memes.” (Rushkoff 1994)

In the 1976 book The Selfish Gene, famed British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins introduced the “meme,” which was to become both an incredibly important and incredibly overused idea, just like its viral companion.

“Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain.” (Dawkins 1976)

Simplified versions of these discussions of “memes” and “media viruses” have given the media industries a false sense of security at a time when the old attention economy has been in flux. The way these terms are now used to mystify the way material spreads, leading professional communicators on quests to create “viral content.”

There’s a great journal about The relationship of virality and emotions by Jonah A. Berger & Katherine L. Milkman, which talks about how an angry reaction to content causes the potential virality to increase dramatically, especially when there are two opposing sides. A great example of this principle in action which springs to mind is the coloured dress craze of 2015 over social media

So What goes viral? What makes something more likely to go viral? Basically, even people that make consistent viral videos don’t know the secrets, and it probably helps that they have a larger audience to start “spreading their content virus”. Watch this video by Casey Neistat (Gets interesting from 6:10) where he talks about his methods an ideas behind what makes viral video. It’s a good summary of my research of viral content – no one knows shit.



Jenkins & Ford & Green, HJ SF SG, 2013, ‘Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture’, Spreadable Media <>


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