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post #405
bio: stu

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Notes on Accidental Virality
Yesterday, while reading an article about Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins--the one who didn't walk on the moon, but instead floated in the module and took maybe the loneliest photo in human history--I saw a quote that I quite liked, so, as I do a couple of times a week, I took a screenshot and posted it to Twitter.

Here's the tweet.

Yes, that's the actual Like and Retweet count. A liberal blogger who follows me liked it, and retweeted it. Emily Nussbaum, TV writer for the New Yorker, follows him, and liked it, and retweeted it.

And from there, thousands of people Liked it, and Retweeted it. It went viral. NPR personality Kai Ryssdal tweeted it. Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics tweeted it. Terry Teachout tweeted it. Keith Olberman tweeted it. John Carmack, co-creator of "Doom," the most important video game of my teenage years, tweeted it.

According to Twitter Analytics, 751,342 people have seen this tweet as of two days later.

So, it was a minor viral sensation. And it has almost nothing to do with me. It's not something amazing I created. It's not something funny I said. I just happened to share something that I found fun, and plenty of other people also found it fun, and it's gone around a bunch of places.

So what's it like being a viral sensation? Not a full-blown viral sensation, but a really truly minor league viral sensation? First of all, this is not a typical viral sensation. There's nothing much complicated about it. It's not offensive, or controversial. No one is hurt by this. I'm also not a woman, so I basically got no real harassment for this.1
1As a slight change, the same day I tweeted this tweet, some rando from the internet got offended by something someone said to me, and Facebook stalked me as a result. My Facebook page isn't connected to my Twitter account, so they had to put some work into it, and for some reason decided to be vaguely threatening about it.

So I feel like this is basically a distilled experience in the bland side of Twitter, rather than the racist or sexist side of Twitter such as the monsters going after Leslie Jones right now.

So, mostly the effect is that my mentions have been a mess. I'm used to getting maybe a dozen responses, retweets, or likes a day. I'm trained to check out my mentions any time I see a number there, indicating there is something new, because it's almost always a friend of mine saying something to me or approving of something I've said. Occasionally it's a rando trying to pick a fight based on doing a keyword search, but I don't seek people out and I don't do a lot of hashtags to get in on things that are trending. So I'm used to Mentions meaning something. But now that it's 48 hours later I'm still getting a Like or a Retweet about every two minutes from that. I have to stop myself from checking every single time.

The actual responses I get are almost all lame. Rather than retweeting something just to share it, a fair number of people try to make a joke. The vast majority of people on Twitter turn out to significantly less funny than they think they are. Many of the rest are belligerent. It is almost impossible to filter out the people who think the moon landing was faked from the people who are joking about the moon landing being faked. As John Scalzi has said, the failure mode of clever is "asshole," and there are a lot of assholes who think they're clever on Twitter. In the entire affair, I got one joke in response that I actually laughed at.

Those who aren't making an unfunny joke of their own spend their time quoting the same joke. I got dozens of people writing "I walked on your face, moon!" from Buzz Aldrin on 30 Rock. No other joke. Just quoting the reference, because apparently quoting something that was funny counts as a joke, these days.

The other assholes I got messages from are people who obviously just replied to whatever the most recent tweet was on a celebrity's account to harass them or try to talk with them, like the guy who called Keith Olberman a masturbator for...well, no reason I could tell but I'm going to be honest in saying I didn't look too close into it.

All in all, it was a weird experience. And out of the 750,000 people seeing this tweet, I got a grand total of 9 followers out of it. I guess I recovered from being viral pretty quickly, with no lingering aftereffects.

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