Attempts to replicate the viral, have had serious consequences of injury and even death. Picture: AP Photo
Attempts to replicate the viral, have had serious consequences of injury and even death. Picture: AP Photo

Don’t kid yourself, the quest for online fame is toxic

The decision of a 13-year-old girl to drive her friends through a McDonalds drive-through to create a video they hoped would go viral across TikTok, has had heads shaking.

While the girls did succeed in creating a successful viral video, they did so with police describing their behaviour as "idiotic".

One can only imagine the appropriate term for the supposed adult in the back of the car, described as a "guardian" to one of the girls and who was "egging" on the stunt.

Every day someone is constructing a new way to get themselves to go viral.

Some, like self-proclaimed Aussie influencer Jamie Zhu, who allegedly faked a broken ankle to get an upgrade to business class on an international flight, are harmless enough. But the justification that the performances are for social research seems questionable.

Same can be said for the Australian Open courtside tennis stunt of a kid yelling to disrupt play right before service during the Australian Open, yet another wanna be professor of the social sciences, doing it for the research, not the 'likes' - yeah right!

We have the deepfakes, where videos are created of eagles swooping off with small children and GoPro man fighting off great whites - all fake. Although, if you saw it you would likely believe it, given how real the footage looks.

The quest for social media fame is fuelled by self-promotion. Picture: istock
The quest for social media fame is fuelled by self-promotion. Picture: istock

Then there is the dangerous, with attempts to replicate the viral, having had serious consequences of injury and even death, with people drinking boiling water, throwing themselves out of moving cars and cooking popcorn in soda cans.

This is the problem with the search for viral as it encourages people to push boundaries to set their videos viral, all in a vain attempt to have that like button ping and their social following grow.

The truth is that those who seek to go viral have no altruistic reason behind their decision, there is no grand social experiment or important research being conducted, it is all done for one reason and one reason only: self-promotion.

That should not surprise as it is simply a sign of the times, the generation of 'me' and an era we're living in where marketing and online avenues reward any behaviour, good or bad, provided the audience views are high.

It is the era of 'influencers' who are paid for simply taking videos and photos of their 'fabulous' lives, which they share with a group of eager copycats waiting to purchase whatever their idols are pushing this week.

The online channels that support these empty values are only too happy to continue to fuel an economy based on these egotistical and at times narcissistic traits.

The value that sits behind so much virality is empty and part of what I call the candy floss economy.

TikTok screengrabs of Australian school students recording and uploading during school hours, using the hashtag #freeperiod. Picture: TikTok Accounts
TikTok screengrabs of Australian school students recording and uploading during school hours, using the hashtag #freeperiod. Picture: TikTok Accounts

Viral is all about the individual being seen, it's about their 'personal brand' and more frequently their ego and their neediness to be popular or famous.

Given the fame and fortune awarded to these 'influencers' and marketers of the vacuous, we perhaps should hold back the severity of judgment of the youngsters in he drive-through, who after all only wanted to replicate their online idols.

All the kids have been running into McDonalds yelling "can I get a Big Mac, super serve of fries, why are you staring at me, please go get my apple pies," which is apparently side splittingly hilarious when viewed online.

These girls decided to do what they see online all the time, take it up a notch and no doubt celebrated their creativity with the Big Macs, nuggets and milkshakes they ordered.

We should forgive that in their youth they do not realise that what they were in fact doing was providing another example of self-absorbed, egotistical and bad behaviour, all for the sake of online fame.

Achieving large audiences in this era is a goal of many and for those who achieve it we like to place them on a pedestal, even though often they seem to have done little of note to achieve such recognition.

It’s time to give less self-absorbed accounts our attention. Picture: istock
It’s time to give less self-absorbed accounts our attention. Picture: istock

Once there they seem to think that their reward for such fame is for people to provide them with free goods and services and if they do not oblige, well you better be careful, as all those followers can easily be weaponised.

For people of genuine substance, quality and skills, achieving such a following is often a struggle as integrity and 'Insta' fame do not seem to go hand-in-hand.

If the shallow can have such success, cannot we as a community begin sharing some of these influencers who are less self absorbed, less about personal brand and add actual value to broader society rather than pillaging from it.

Let's start today, run through your social media accounts and take a close look at who you are following, the videos you share and like and start to hit delete to the empty and vacuous.

Who knows, if we all do that, maybe we can start the movement that puts an end to the age of the viral and online influencers.

Mark Carter is an author, speaker and an expert in human behaviour



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