The Pros and Cons of “Going Viral”

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Published on June 6, 2017, at 8:04 a.m.
by Kayla Sullivan.

The infectious laughter of “Chewbacca Mom,” the clever add-ins for “Salt Bae” to sprinkle and the new phrase “cash me ousside” are all considered viral social media content. These three examples have become recognizable across the world. The majority of social media users have most likely seen each of the aforementioned viral content.

A good portion of the posts that go viral are a captured moment that users of social media in turn relate to other situations or a moment that users feel other people should see. For example, many talent show auditions from shows such as “American Idol” or “America’s Got Talent” have gone viral because of a talented singer’s moving story, a talent that has never been seen before or an audition gone terribly wrong. Other posts that go viral are from everyday life like Chewbacca Mom or an risky encounter in nature.

In January of 2017, a video posted to Facebook of a rather large alligator crossing the path of hikers at nature reserve in central Florida quickly went viral and was picked up by news outlets around the world. The alligator known as “Humpback” is estimated to be around 12 feet long and was seen crossing from one marsh to another via a busy visitor trail at Polk’s Nature Discovery Center at Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, Florida. Twelve feet seemed massive to news outlets outside of Florida, but Floridians know that 12 feet is an average-sized alligator and that there are much larger ones around.

Photo by Matthew Field 

This is not the first time Circle B has had alligator sightings go viral. In 2014, a video of a larger alligator mauling a smaller alligator was widely shared on social media and picked up by news outlets worldwide. Viewers were fascinated by this graphic glimpse into nature that only few know as common.

The environmental lands stewardship coordinator at Circle B, Tabitha Biehl, mentioned that the reserve watches the influx of visitors closely and is happy with any sparked interest in nature.

“The goal [of the reserve] is to get people outdoors,” Biehl said. This time of year the reserve sees around 10,000 visitors weekly. Many visitors are from out of state. Biehl said that for every four county resident visitors there is one visitor from out of state. These numbers are great considering that the majority of the reserve’s marketing is through word of mouth and the occasional promotion by Visit Florida.

With so many out of state visitors who are not used to Florida wildlife, the reserve has had to add additional signage along the trails to caution visitors of wildlife encounters.

“Our job is to elevate to a role of caution,” Biehl said. She explained that the reserve is in the process of “revamping” the signage and language used on the signs. She also noted that new visitors have shown a “Disney-esque” mentality that concerns the reserve. Visitors may not understand the dangers of the wild animals and thus are not prepared if they happen to cross paths.

While Circle B is of course concerned with the safety of its visitors and is making sign improvements to caution them of the potential dangers, its staff are also concerned for the safety of the animals. The reserve is happy to see new visitors interested by the viral posts, but too many visitors cause concern for the wildlife’s safety.

“Going viral” can be a blessing and a curse. It got people interested in the outdoors and nature, but too many people in the reserve at once increases the risk of unpleasant wildlife interactions happening. The blessing and curse of “going viral” is the case for other viral content as well, such as Kony 2012 by Invisible Children or the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Photo by Tenz1225 on Flickr

Many celebrities and others participated in the ice bucket challenge. Celebrity videos often went viral, but every once in awhile someone who wasn’t famous would pull off a crazy enough stunt to go viral as well. Quickly, the challenge became more about stunts than actually spreading the original message. In multiple videos, participants do not even call the challenge by the correct name.

Passion Lucas, a University of Alabama student originally from Athens, Alabama, was challenged by her high school basketball coach to participate with her teammates.

“This was a good team bonding experiment and it really made us do our research,” Lucas said. At practice, they researched as a team and planned to set up a donation table. Instead of just completing the challenge, each player and coach donated $10. As a team, they raised $286 and challenged the football team to raise more money.

“It was really cold but it was well worth it. We got to laugh while also helping a great cause,” Lucas said.

So, was the virality of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge a success? The challenge brought in $115 million in donations in the end. In terms of awareness of the disease, concerns were raised that participants were caught up in the trendy challenge rather than taking the time to understand the purpose of the challenge.

“Going viral” will always have pros and cons because some people are much more interested in the trend rather than the cause. However, awareness of causes or charities will increase and pique some people’s interest and encouraged their involvement.

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