For many, the Internet is simply a wonderful playground of distraction full of cats, memes, and memes about cats.
YouTube is, technically, the second biggest search engine on the net and can also be classed as one of the biggest social networks. With this kind of influence and over 60 hours of video content being uploaded every minute, it’s only natural that once in a while a video surfaces and changes the world in a very tangible and big way, for better or worse.
From examples of citizen broadcast journalism to viral campaigns (and anomalies) that helped change our perceptions en masse, here we take a look at:
5 Viral Videos Which Actually Changed the World
This may seem like a fairly soft-ball entry – and some would question the impact a semi-comedic music video can really have – but Gangnam Style is likely to go down in history as a turning point for how the record industry at large viewed the efficacy of YouTube.
Having literally broken the YouTube view counter (the algorithm had a theoretical upper limit of 2,147,483,647), South Korean singer Psy managed to demonstrate that YouTube can not only create stars, but super stars. Billboard was forced to overhaul its methodology for ranking music sales as a result, and to boot, Gangnam Style kick started a cultural shift in the West with a massive surge of interest in K-Pop and J-Pop following the video’s release.
Much like Peter Jackson’s movies having had a big impact on New Zealand tourism, Psy also did the same for South Korea – it also created a boom in the Korean stock market, and was used to promote numerous peace projects. Not bad for a tongue-in-cheek dance song.
ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
Video marketing campaigns are not new in the sphere of charity, but it’s arguable that no social media outreach has been (or will be) as effective as the Ice Bucket Challenge craze which swept the globe in the summer of 2014.
The only parallel which came close to this was the Harlem Shake meme, but the ubiquitous Ice Bucket Challenge not only reached greater heights but also improved the world at the same time – it is estimated that well over $110 million was donated to related charities combating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and countless more going to other charitable causes participants were selecting particularly towards the end of the campaign.
All in all, it put us a lot closer to helping tackle the disease and also brought us all together, with numerous celebrities getting a dose of ice and humility. It truly was the feel-good viral campaign of the Summer.
They say with video content, it’s best practice to deliver your message in 3 minutes or less. Kony 2012 had a 30 minute runtime, but spread faster than the most viral of cat videos.
The backstory and subsequent events following the release of the Joseph Kony documentary could fill volumes, but the almost instantaneous effect it had on the world following its upload to YouTube was unprecedented. Very few had heard of Kony, much less the war crimes and child abductions with which his name has become synonymous; as a result of the 100 million views the video quickly racked up, it was estimated that half of all young people in America were now conscious of Joseph Kony’s existence and even prompted the Senate to send troops to join in the manhunt.
While the merits of the film have since come under scrutiny (and director Jason Russell had a psychological meltdown following its release), there are very few shorts which have influenced international relations at this level.
At the time of writing, Kony is still at large and a sequel documentary did not garner as much interest.
It Gets Better
After a string of tragic suicides in the LGBT community – particularly among teens who were subjected to bullying due to their sexuality – journalist Dan Savage wrote of one case “I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy [Lucas] that it gets better.”
With that, a huge force for change and positivity was born. Savage and husband Terry Miller founded the movement in 2010 with a simple premise: get everyday gay adults to sit in front of a webcam and share their inspirational stories with their younger peers, all centered around the ‘it gets better’ message. Before long, huge celebrities of all sexual persuasions added their voice to the project. It’s impossible to calculate the number of lives it has had a positive affect on, not to mention how many suicides it may have prevented.
As with the other entries above, the It Gets Better video campaign wasn’t a slow burner. Immediately after its launch, 200 videos were uploaded by supporters. This number tripled in the second week – now in its fifth year of activity, it stands at well over 50,000 entries.
Arab Spring Videos
There is no one video which single-handedly typifies the citizen coverage of the Arab Spring, which in turn fueled the uprising. We’ve gone with a two-minute breakdown of what the Arab Spring was for the uninitiated, but it cannot be understated how big a part social media played in the uprising (and YouTube is included in that.)
“They [the governments] couldn’t arrest every person with a phone that has a camera,” said Mohamed Abdel-Dayem, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists. “When they shut down Al Jazeera in Egypt, Al Jazeera continued to cover Egypt using citizen footage. That created a new dynamic where news media didn’t need the blessing of the government to report the news. The state apparatus was bypassed.”
Never before has the Internet, and social media in particular, become a more powerful tool in the hands of everyday people and journalists/social commenters are struggling to keep up with this rapidly changing, virgin landscape. The above five video movements are just the start of this online revolution; it remains to be seen the new ways in which viral videos will change pop culture and the collective public consciousness in years to come.