Tag: Trojan

4 of 4 What Makes a Video Viral go Viral?

The Imperfect [Viral] Crime

We might say that viral marketers try to make their Trojans out of the same kind of stuff we experience when glimpsing strange cloud formations.


To be sure, the marketer must endeavor to be the trickster insofar as he tries to sustain the hallucination long enough to fleece those idiots still caught out staring into the sky. This is nevertheless the “imperfect crime” of viral marketing Fuller and Goffey discuss so well in their Evil Media chapter in The Spam Book: as they put it, the problem with viral marketing is that “the identity of the criminal needs to be circulated along with the act itself.”

So what makes something go viral? Well, isn’t this the elixir of marketing and political strategizing? It’s certainly not something that can be easily grasped. Aside from engaging with the imperfect criminal act, the viral marketer must also take into account the accidental environments in which phantoms exist. See, for example, the work of network market researchers like Duncan Watts who point to the accidents of influence. As Fuller and Goffey argue, as soon as the viral is pushed “into the [uncertain] realm of experiential communication [and] material affect,” the marketer can no longer rely on an encoded message to ensure the virus’s trajectory (p. 155). There are no assurances that things will go viral. The cloud might eventually become dispersed or get heavier and fall from the sky.

Forget the meme theory of viral marketing. It is in these uncertain realms of communication that the accidents of virality seem to persist irrelevant of how much memetic seeding takes place. Importantly then, the creativity of the idiot does not belong to the idiot-subject or the idiot maker, it would seem. The idiot is not simply created; he also creates himself and those idiots around him. Marketers have to bide their time, keep their distance, and wait for their phantom event to spread out. Nevertheless, with enough added idiocy, the attention of the collective hallucination will eventually be drawn to this or that point of distraction and the virus might just catch on.


Jon Ronson’s viral video: Thank God it’s Tuesday http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/video/2012/may/18/jon-ronson-viral-video-tuesday

Olga Goriunova, 2010 ‘Digital Media Idiocy’, Thinking Network Politics conference, Anglia Research Centre in Digital Culture,Anglia Ruskin University.

Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd, 16.

Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense (London: Continuum, 1990), 241–57.

Matthew Fuller and Andrew Goffey, “Towards an Evil Media Studies,” in Parikka and Sampson, The Spam Book, 155.

Clive Thompson, “Is the Tipping Point Toast?” Fast Company Magazine, February 1, 2008, http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/122/is-the-tippingpoint-toast.html

2 of 4 What Makes a Video Viral go Viral?

Trojan Virality

The idea of idiocy is nothing new to contagion theory. In Gustave Le Bon’s The Crowd, for example, the social collectives through which contagion spread were considered to be stupider than the individual minds that compose them. To put it another way, it is not simply the case that what spreads is idiotic. It is also the infected social medium that is made up of so many idiots. To be sure, Le Bon’s The Crowd is like the smart mob thesis in reverse: we are stupider together than we are alone. Le Bon was of course afraid of the crowd. In an age of revolutionary contagion it posed a real threat to his social class. But despite his acute aristocratic paranoia concerning the crowd’s revolutionary potential (paranoia that still reverberates within the neo-liberal power structures of today) what he does usefully point to is the collective idiot’s vulnerability to Trojan-like events. Unlike the anomic regulatory forces of his contemporary Durkheim, which were supposed to detect such anomalous contagions, this straw man of 19th century contagion theory provides a few compelling examples of how Trojan virals slip under the collective consciousness, appearing to function according to a “mechanism of hallucination.” As follows, Le Bon recounts how one of Napoleon’s frigates, the Belle Poule, fell victim to a hallucinatory Trojan event. The ship was “cruising in the open sea for the purpose of finding the cruiser Le Berceau, from which she had been separated by a violent storm.” He continues:

“It was broad daylight and in full sunshine. Suddenly the watch signaled a disabled vessel; the crew looked in the direction signaled, and every one, officers and sailors, clearly perceived a raft covered with men towed by boats which were displaying signals of distress. Yet this was nothing more than a collective hallucination. Admiral Desfosses lowered a boat to go to the rescue of the wrecked sailors.”

The Belle Poule

“On nearing the object sighted, the sailors and officers on board the boat saw “masses of men in motion, stretching out their hands, and heard the dull and confused noise of a great number of voices.” When the object was reached those in the boat found themselves simply and solely in the presence of a few branches of trees covered with leaves that had been swept out from the neighboring coast.” Before evidence so palpable the hallucination vanished.”

And what idiots Napoleon’s sailors and officers must have felt like – just as stupid perhaps as those YouTube visitors caught out by the present day Trojans of internet viral marketers. Take for example an early video viral from YouTube called Lonelygirl15. In 2006 a series of webcast blogs were uploaded to the video-sharing website YouTube. Set in the bedroom of an often-pouting teenager, Lonelygirl15 attracted the largest number of visitors to the file-sharing site since its creation the year before.

Lonelygirl15 (Photo by Jeff Ellis as published in the book Virality)

The video also triggered a wave of imitative video clips and feverish comments posted by fans of the blog. These comments reveal a distinct lack of awareness on behalf of these fans concerning what would be later exposed as a hoax. Lonelygirl15 was an actress, and the video blog was designed to promote the work of a couple of budding Internet moviemakers. Here the viral marketers not only set out to publicize their work and make some money, but they also made idiots out of those YouTube visitors who were, it seems, fooled into believing in what turned out to be a ruse.