Aug 31, 2023, 05:55AM

When Tom Goes Viral

I don’t know how so many people saw it, as I had almost no Instagram following.

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I wonder: how do non-celebrities go viral? I've been on social media for half my life and still don't know the answer, even though I’ve had a viral post. I opened a Facebook account 13 years ago, in 2010, when I was 13 years old. I joined Google Plus a year later and Twitter the following year, though none of those original accounts are active.

While I've learned plenty about social media in that time, I've only had one viral post, and it was an accident. Last Christmas, I’d no idea I posted it, but had an Instagram reel go viral—and don’t understand why it happened. It shows the skeletal structure of a rabbit, how scientists would recreate the animal, and what it looks like. I added a caption about Santa Deniers.

The meme's purpose is that prehistoric animals, including dinosaurs, most likely looked much different than how people perceived them. It also was a joke at the expense of atheists, especially those who’ve replaced religion with science. Some of my right-wing followers may have found it funny, though I only had around 60 followers at the time. However, it was Christmas night, and I’d consumed several beers, so I accidentally posted this story as a reel. The meme wasn’t even a reel; almost always, reels are videos.

Over the next three months, the post blew up. It got about 270,000 likes, 3.5 million views, and 21,000 shares. Fights also broke out in the comment section about evolution, primarily with Muslims, who agreed with the meme, going to war with atheists. I don’t know how so many people saw it, as I had almost no Instagram following. Nor do I understand why people found that meme with that caption so appealing. Regarding evolution and history, I’ve long thought about how no one knows what things looked like from long ago. We can’t even agree on basic facts regarding current events.

My attempt to replicate the success was a dud. When the rabbit meme still had steam, I posted another about how cigarettes are plant-based and, therefore, healthy. That got about five likes in one week from people who liked the rabbit meme. I deleted it. For all I’ve written in 10 years of journalism, that one sentence on the rabbit meme is my most viewed writing, and I’ve had some posts that have gone viral, including ones for LifeZette; some of those clickbait articles blew up because, at the time, Laura Ingraham's Facebook page aggregated the site's articles.

When I was younger, I ran a few sports Facebook pages, including one called Rob Gronkowski is a Beast. It got to about 1000 Facebook likes before I stopped using it. However, I checked in on the page, and it had over 10,000 likes without me doing anything. When I was 14, I thought the name was excellent and that it would get the page many likes. It turned out I was right—because people loved one of the best tight ends in NFL history. Even so, I never imagined getting an extra 9000 likes without any effort. The page, now dormant for several years, has about 13,500 likes in 2023.

Blue checkmarks beefing with politicians and political figures get attention. If you turn the notifications on and tweet, "Fuck you, Drumpf" every time Trump tweets something, you may get some social media clout from resist libs. Or, you could turn on notifications for Ilhan Omar and imply that she married her brother in response to every tweet. I’ve seen no evidence proving that claim, but it's the internet, and facts don't matter. Bullshit goes viral all the time. 


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