Did you ever read the story about the husband who sued his wife, for bearing him ugly children? It's an old story, making its first appearance in a 2004 Ananova article, then returning in October / November 2013 with more "viral" potential, as the story had found an image to attach itself to.
However, that "family portrait" above is actually an ad for a plastic surgeon. The adults and children are models, and while the adults were left intact as their photogenic selves, some sneaky photoshopping happened to the children's faces to enlarge noses and make unattractive pouts. The line above the family reads: “The only thing you have to worry you about after plastic surgery is the explaining you’ll have to do to your children.” The payoff is the name of the plastic surgery center.
In October 2015 the "model who became a meme", Heidi Yeh, sued J Walter Thompson ad agency, seeking compensation for her ruined modeling career and tarnished reputation after this image of her became viral. Her face is now seen as a result of deceptive plastic surgery, though she says she's never had any, and it is connected world wide to the old urban myth about a man who sued his wife due to ugly children. Her viral fame is a lie she did not create.
Stories that go "viral" aren't a new phenomena. Before the internet we had urban myths and "virals" are just faster spreading ideas, clips, jokes, news stories that go global due to our interconnected world. We all dabbled in virals 15 years ago. Jonah Peretti tried to get Nike to write "sweat shop" on sneakers in 2000 and when the story went viral he became so fascinated by the phenomena that he later founded Buzzfeed, a site designed to keep churning out viral stories while poisoning the well. Sites like Upworthy pushed the algorithms and emotional buttons of readers to ensure spread. Soon an entire generation of media makers created manipulative films like the Kony invisible children, and 10 hours walking around NYC as a woman. When the "social experiment" 'drunk girl in public' was made, every SAG rule was violated, despite it being shot in L.A. Peretti's generation birthed Buzzfeed and Gawker who by trolling brands, became (toxic) brands. They may not make their content in sweatshops like Nike, but their environment is no less toxic, and the waste spills out all over the internet.
Virals used to be a culture jamming war, but now they're more often becoming a war on bystanders. "Damn Daniel" abruptly takes off, and the guy who filmed it was 'swatted', as cops received a call he had shot his mother with an AK-47. But threats and horrible pranks also extend the shelf-life of a viral and keep it in the press as much as an appearance on Ellen.
The Syfy channel has a new series that also, extends the shelf-life of some unfortunate virals, called "the Internet ruined my life. " Most of those who are profiled should be familiar. There's Jennifer Box, the "drunk" actress who participated in the "social prank" in L.A.. Miss Box released an apology for participating in the skit, and made sure to state "for the record, every man seen in the video was a perfect gentleman," because they were accused of being rapists and predators all over the internet. It's strange the interview is seemingly dedicated to Box and not the men whose lives were potentially ruined by this social prank. The episode hasn't aired at press time, so it has yet to be seen in context.
Then there's Suey Park who invented the hashtag #Cancelcolbert, seen below defending her hashtag to Josh Zepp at Huffington Post. When he points out that it's quite clearly a very sarcastic joke, and to take it at face value "strikes me as misguided", Suey Park cuts him off: "I feel that it's incredibly patronising of you to paint these questions this way, especially as a white man...". When Josh Zepp shoots back that "being a white man doesn't prevent me from being able to think," Suey responded that she would not explain her opinion to him because he was patronising. In a meme-tastic twist, the SyFy show featuring Suey Park contains another meme, namely the Navy Seal Copypasta.
The Navy Seal Copypasta should be familiar to anyone who has ever made the mistake of reading youtube comments, "I’ll have you know I graduated top of my class in the Navy Seals....", where it has been copy pasted for years. It's an outlandish "I will sniper you" threat made funny by the fact that the fictitious Navy Seal's entire resumé is included. In text only it's difficult to see the tone with which something is intended. Jokes on social media can backfire. Just ask Justine Sacco. Suey expresses the full blown paranoia she suffered after her tweet went viral, and the episode shows her receiving threats of snipers outside of her window. I fully understand her paranoid reaction, and I have been there with someone outside of my window quite literally. For the record though, I would not make a TV show about the incident.
Sierra McCurdy's story is presented as someone who "chose the wrong emoji", she was fired from Subway for seemingly celebrating the deaths of two police officers on Instagram with the post "we got em!" She may have been kidding, or made a mistake as she claims, but on a wide-open Instagram smiling while wearing a Subway hat her opinion became a liability for a brand and attracted public outrage. I had largely forgotten about her, despite the trending hashtag her name was at the time, and I wonder if it's really all that wise for these people to show up again, extending their unfortunate internet-fame once more.
Words on the internet can get you fired whether you work behind the counter of a company or , even whether you are the CCO of a company. Just ask Gavin McInnes. A photo of a shirt on your back can overshadow your scientific accomplishments because someone takes offense. The harsh reality isn't that the internet ruined your life, but that people in general are assholes who never mastered the art of live and let live. It is the torch and pitchfork mob that ruined your life. Not the internet.
The torch and pitchfork mob that responds to clickbait journalism and shares viral videos are not spending a lot of time with the items they are clicking on before sharing. Whether it's feel good news or manufactured outrage news, it is a product of the microwave mentality that instantly shares without processing entirely. This is true of supposed "good" virals like Kony & Drunk girl, or the "bad" virals like the Subway photo. It's also important to understand the inherent cynicism of click-bait journalism. There is no such thing as good or bad news. There is only whatever gets the most views according to the algorithm. If someone's life is "ruined," because of it, that's neither here nor there. But when even seasoned professionals fail at surfing the viral waves half the time in this kind of environment, it's little wonder that hashtag-activists and Subway workers come crashing down, too.