We Tried, But It’s Viral Now

Virality. A word spell check still refuses to recognize, no matter how widely used it is now. “Viral” often refers to infection, disease. But now also refers to quickly spreading content, infectious content, if you will.

But such a word presumes that there is no control over the spread of content, that it just happens, which isn’t true for most cases. Henry Jenkins argues in Spreadable Media (p. 20) that when we share content we actively choose to spread such content to our contacts on social media, via email or even play it for someone, we carry that content outwards of our networks to other networks through sharing.

But how much choice do we really have in sharing those short funny videos for example? Can we articulate or explain why we do?

One example to measure our ability to answer such question to is the famous “Charlie Bit My Finger” video.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OBlgSz8sSM]

Back in 2007, a family in England posted the home video above. It’s a cute moment between brothers, three and one year olds. It was meant to be shared between family and friends, and it wasn’t until years later that views started doubling daily, until it became one of the most viewed videos on YouTube with more than 800 million views.

What happened?

People shared the video on every website, and they shared it because people where sharing it, and so on and so forth. No one knows who was “patient zero”, probably a famous website or a media outlet, that led to the video’s outbreak.

In an interview, the dad who posted the video commented on the videos popularity.

“I had to make a decision: Is this something that we accept is us and do something more with or is it something we just park and say, ‘That’s really nothing to do with us,’ and then everybody else will be exploiting it and making money from it?”

The thing is, he didn’t realize it wasn’t even his decision anymore. The video has simple gone viral and there was no control over it. Years later in 2015, the story is still going on, and people are wondering what happened to the Charlie Bit My Finger boys.

They have found fame, YouTube revenue and became part of our culture, in a way. Time’s magazine refers to  watching the video now as “nostalgic”, all based on something millions of us do everyday, record our kids doing something funny. No one can really list a formula other videos can follow to assure a similar success, it was just something that “went viral”.

I agree with Jenkins in how he explains the difference between virality and spreadability, but viral content isn’t necessarily commercial content desperately clutching to the advantage of public participation, even if that is the case lots of times, it’s only because when it works, it really does get uncontrollably viral, and there’s no explanation for it except that everyone thinks it’s “interesting” whether it is a toddler biting his brother’s finger, or a Korean pop song.

“I Put Words in People’s Mouths”: The Remix Culture and Copyright Claims

If your 2012 revolved around trying to get Call Me Maybe out of your head, you’re about to be reminded of how catchy this song was. Being good or bad isn’t even relevant at this point, the song was everywhere and so were an endless stream of parodies.

What allowed these parodies to survive is the “fair use” argument against the artist/label’s copyrights, they were commentaries on the song and in my opinion did more promotion than the label could have ever done on its own.

Parodies aside, one YouTube channel did a remix of the song with Obama’s real speeches. Real as in his voice is actually his voice, even though he may have not said “ripped jeans skin was showing”. Let’s watch:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hX1YVzdnpEc]

Baracksdubs is a YouTube channel that is dedicated to creating remixes of presidential speeches to voice and mouth lyrics of pop songs, sometimes you’d find Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton featured in a couple of videos but they’re primarily Obama. The creator of this channel, Fadi Saleh, goes through what must be hundreds of these speeches looking for words, parts of words and sometimes potential parts of words to create his collages. What he creates is this whole new production that doesn’t really relate to neither the song nor to Obama.

Wouldn’t there be at least 4 big-picture copyright, at least brow-furrowing cases here?

The answer is: No.

Baracksdubs started around three years ago, and giving that it still exists and creates new content gives more weight to what Lessig is calling for in the book Remix; a breathing room in copyright regulations sets our culture for more creativity.

For the example above, Carly Rae Jepsen herself faced copyright infringement claims herself so it might even be difficult to pinpoint what an “original content” is here. As for the Obama side, Baracksdubs actually celebrated with a Facebook post sharing an article in which Obama was asked about the Call Me Maybe clip, to which he replied:

“I have to admit, I’ve never actually heard the original version of the song. I saw this version where they spliced up me from a whole bunch of different speeches that I made. They kind of mashed together an Obama version of it.”

“An Obama version”!

it went on to create a brand for itself, media kept up with new releases like original music. In a way, he created a stand-alone brand from mashing two things up in a creative and intriguingly accurate way that will probably open doors to even more versions of content.

Here’s a couple more for fun:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6PEboTpcfI]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mw0v-7CfLvc]

“Inspired”…Sure

There comes a time in every creative person’s life when they start making professional work, and usually right before that is when they get an important sentence repeatedly knocked into them by their bosses, contracts or lawyers: Don’t Steal Other People’s Work.

Don’t copy and paste, don’t rephrase or reshape, don’t even think about any other type of similar work while you’re working. It doesn’t matter if you mean to or not, your life as a creator will be over if you even come close to it.

But the question is: is this possible?

Scenario A: A designer is quickly approaching a deadline to hand in a banner and inspiration just doesn’t want to make an appearance. Our designer goes online, searched for similar banners to what he’s doing and tweak somethings and goes to sleep happy.

Someone finds out or recognize the original work and bam; our designer is in deep trouble.

Scenario B: A designer is working on a banner design. He has an idea, tries it and is instantly happy with his work, he knows it’s going to be a hit. It just feels right.

Someone recognizes that his work is a copy of a 1980 ad and bam; our designer is in deep trouble.

Are they both plagiarists?

The argument is a tough one, designer B is being a human being with a memory that works, that’s all he did wrong. Isn’t that what brains supposed to do? absorb information and recall them when needed? He stored something he glanced at years ago and recalled it when he was looking for idea, same goes for music, books, stories,,,etc

But then again, a work that isn’t originally the artist’s is a work stolen. You wouldn’t want to see another version of something you created attributed to someone else. And there’s no way of knowing if the person actually intended to copy or not.

In that way Michael Bierut makes sense of calling himself a plagiarist, and consequently we all are. We are plagiarists for dressing the way we dress and for writing the things we write and for saying “this sick beat” (It’s copyrighted by Taylor Swift. True story).

As someone who writes for a living, this thought scares me. And now I’m looking for software to validate that any words I type (or ideas?) is a brand new invention that no one in the entire world, since the beginning of time has reached before me. Because I can’t afford being sued!

An Open Letter to Lanier

Dear Mr. Lanier,

I have recently been reading your book You Are Not A Gadget for class, and while it’s not a book that I would usually read in 4 days, I did read your run-on rant on how everything has gone so, so wrong and how “new media” if we dare call it that has ruined every possible hope of a new civilization.

It should have been obvious, Mr. Lanier that since you start your book by criticizing your book that this was going to be…peculiar.

“It’s early in the twenty-first century, and that means that these words will mostly be read by nonpersons…”

also, ouch!

“—automatons or numb mobs composed of people who are no longer acting as individuals. The world will be minced into atomized search-engine keywords within industrial cloud computing facilities located in a remote, often secret locations around the world.”

You are right, Jaron. But see, even though I am the human rarity reading this book, I did use search-engine keywords and cloud computing services to read your book, and so did you probably throughout writing and publishing this book.

I agree with you that the world is becoming more technology-oriented, but that doesn’t mean we will turn into gadgets, much like the silver space suit still hasn’t made its debut in everyday culture as expected.

We are increasingly depending on technology, and it is taking a toll on us, but it has its upside. It has a huge upside that I‘m worrying you’re missing out on. Open culture didn’t drive creativity out the window, it’s just that we are still living in the capitalist world we’ve always been living in. Profit will always be the winner. Expecting that to change just because we are introducing a new medium and new platforms and new ways of publishing and connecting isn’t good for you. Because some things will simply not change in life.

The internet isn’t all low-quality content looking for money, the internet is not a big “slum”, it’s where you look that matters. Who says that only signed artists should make music, what deems them good anyway but the audience, the people?

Concerns over who is “running the internet” is a valid argument, I’ll give you that. But the “lords of the cloud” are systems and companies, and they are run by people. It always comes back to people and it always did.

Living in an open, digital culture is not a threat to my humanity, value and contribution. I am not a gadget, no one is a gadget and no one is turning into a gadget.

Networking For Good

How we network as individuals and within groups has changed with time and technologies, and with such change appear advantages and disadvantages that are being studied to determine how the future of networking would look like.

In the book Networked:The New Social Operating System, authors Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman discuss the three major revolutions that have transformed how we form social circles and interact within them: the networks revolution, the internet revolution, and the mobile revolution. The book also focuses on how this change has affected our networks as individuals, how we now approach our relationships with our families, friends, and work mates.

In this post, we take a look at two examples of how the new concept of networking can help us understand where bigger networks link together, where interactions doesn’t only take place within a network or from individuals to the surrounding few networks they belong in, but across networks to make it more possible to serve a bigger, mutual goal. One is a feature social networks have developed enough to offer, the other is a result of public collaboration across different networks.

1- Safety Check-in

After the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal in April 2015, Facebook offered the Safety Check feature to alert the noch! network of an individual who has his location set to an affected area that they are Bye fine.

Mobile phones would show a simple alert from Facebook that reads “You appear to be in an area affected by X disaster, are you safe?” and there would be two options “I’m safe” or “I’m not in the area”.

As rescuing efforts tried to free people from under the rubble among the rising deaths, it was an effective way to check on someone in the midst of chaos, and a quick way for users who were near all the distress to assure their loved ones, friends, families, and every other network they were part of that they were alright.

Google has also been working on a People Finder feature to locate an individual’s network in the aftermath of a disaster.

This addition to the functions of social networks show how the technological revolutions happening so far (the networking revolution, internet revolution, and mobile revolution) can be integrated to serve our interpersonal communication. They are here one step ahead of how our social intuition works, as they usually are. It relieves us from the worry of an additional task in a difficult time of emergency.

2- Crowdsourcing help on a large scale

Seven days ago, a picture tweeted by Icelandic journalist Gissur Simonarson went viral. The picture was of a Syrian refugee father selling pens on the streets of Beirut with his sleeping daughter on his arm.

After the great amount of support under the hashtag #BuyPens, and questions of how to locate this man and help him support himself and his children, a crowdsourcing campaign was launched to raise money for him with a goal of $5,000.

In 6 days, the campaign has raised over $178,000 so far and there’s still 8 days left. more than 6,700 people from all over the world donated through the website. The story has been picked up by news websites and blogs all over the world.

A common expression between commentaries and entries on this type of crowdsourcing is “gives me hope”. Social media has gathered people everywhere with all their differences under one giant umbrella of accessible information, and whenever something happens on that big of a scale that changes someone’s life or helps a cause, we are reminded that it isn’t social media itself that does damage when it happens, but how people interact within their networks on social media. Connections aren’t formed by the medium, but by the people.

In these ways, the three revolutions have transformed how we perceive information and interact with each other, whether it is within our small circle or with the more generic networks we are sharing with millions of other people.