On going viral

Let’s clear something up at the outset.

I haven’t gone viral. I am not responsible for something going viral.

But my Twitter feed has been in meltdown over the past 24 hours, and one of my tweets (to a Professor Robert E Kelly in South Korea) seems to imply that I was somehow responsible for his BBC World News interview (with guest stars) going nuclear.

In truth, it was clear this would go viral regardless. In the right context, clips like this can be re-published without significant risk of copyright infringement. By the time I saw Kelly’s response, it was well on the way. And at the time of writing it has been viewed several tens of millions of times.

Nevertheless, I felt we (the BBC) had a responsibility to seek his consent before adding our own wind to the storm. He and his wife were – understandably – reticent. A colleague of mine, Antony Dore, spoke to them both and managed to persuade them, no doubt helped by the fact the ship (the fleet?) had already sailed. Despite broadcasting the original live interview, I think it’s fair to say we were not amongst the first ships out of port. And in this case, we got it right. We did not require consent, but courtesy is free and having successful relationships with our contributors is critical to what we do.

I had to mute notifications on my Twitter feed. Various of my tweets have been seen hundreds of thousands of times; the one above has made over half a million ‘impressions’. Engagements with my tweets, or (more likely) others I was mentioned in, have run into the tens of thousands. Given the subsequent chaos, Kelly’s curiosity about whether this is the “kinda thing that goes ‘viral’ and gets weird” is just sublime.

I dread to think how it feels to be on the receiving end of that, to be at the heart of the story, to see so much ill-considered social media invective amongst the joy it brought many others. As I see it, Professor Kelly’s children are a credit to him, and while he and his wife must be mortified about what happened, there was something strikingly normal about the whole scenario. My favourite moment was the grand entrance of the baby-on-wheels. Confident, and fast!

My own children are aged four and one, similar to his. I sure could see this playing out in my home, though as my wife takes client calls by Skype it would be my special responsibility to prevent it. Should the worst happen (it won’t), I can’t really imagine it playing out any more calmly. I will take this clip as a warning.

Kelly now has 18,000 more Twitter followers than Friday morning (up 800%). Bizarrely, I now have 400 more followers. Another colleague, Bryony Hopkins, who requested the interview in the first place, also had to mute her Twitter notifications. She witnessed people watching the clip on the tube on her way home from work. And a random neighbour mentioned the clip to me this morning – my walk-on role in the whole saga unknown to him.

One point of irritation to me… there was a widespread assumption that the woman who eventually restored order was a nanny. It was not an assumption I shared, and we soon learned it was the mortified mother. But why did so many of us jump to this conclusion? I won’t spell it out, but perhaps she fitted a stereotype of some kind. The BBC’s Helier Cheung has given this some further analysis here.

Finally, lost in the fray, South Korea lost her president on Friday, impeached by Parliament and confirmed by a court, due to a corruption scandal. Pusan National University’s Professor Robert Kelly is something of an expert on the wider issues. Let’s hear him out. The interviewer: James Menendez.


Is BuzzFeed close to burnout?

Which Vladimir Putin are you? Apparently I am Warrior Putin: “You came to power vowing to “wipe [terrorists] out in the shithouse,” and you’ve never looked back since. Islamic insurgents across the Caucasus squeal when they hear your name. And one steely stare from you is all it takes to scare NATO off moving its missile shields a step closer to your borders. Glory to Russia!”

What city should you actually live in? Apparently I should actually live in Portland, Oregon. Having seen a series of Portlandia, I’m not convinced…

Which arbitrary thing are you? Apparently I am a box of hangers (not hangars – that would require a very big box). BuzzFeed says: “You’re a box of hangers! Maybe you’ll come in handy one day. You’re persistent, ever present. You’re always there, lurking. Your purpose in life is clear, though not always necessary.”


In the world of Buzzfeed, I have to be one of a number of Vladimir Putins. It simply won’t do to not be Mr Putin at all. I should, apparently, actually live in Portland rather than just outside London, even though my job is in London, my baby son lives in Epsom, my post arrives there, and my wife would presumably be living in Cape Town, which is where Buzzfeed reckons she should ‘actually live’. And due to my persistent, lurking, purposeful but unnecessary existence, it seems I am a box of hangers.

Thanks to BuzzFeed, I’ve been able to shortcut a lot of self-analysis. No need to navigate these tricky questions, as a quick multi-choice quiz has revealed the startling truth about core aspects of my being.

Except there is no meaningful truth here at all. The quizzes (and many of the interminable lists) are banal, revealing nothing valuable about the state of our world or our selfish being. They are conceived of a light-bulb moment in the BuzzFeed office, born a few hours later, posted on Twitter and Facebook (and God knows where else), shared ad nauseum and then shunted aside nanoseconds later to make way for the next clickbait.

Maybe I’m late to the party, but I’m pretty sure I hadn’t heard of BuzzFeed six months ago, even though it launched in 2006. In recent months it seems to have gone viral. Sometimes it seems like every other viral link lands on BuzzFeed. There is a danger of saturation. And when the headline oversells the product (very often) there is a danger web-surfers will be disappointed once too often, especially when the destination page is littered with bizarre and irrelevant two-second GIF animations. Make them stop!

In desperation, every BuzzFeed headline seems to cry “14 amazing reasons you should click right here!” Follow the herd into the abyss of internet pointlessness! All too often there is simply nothing to see here.

I’m convinced we are at peak BuzzFeed. Unless there is a change of pace to recognise this, burnout beckons.

Update (9.45pm, 11 Feb 2014): We really are at ‘peak BuzzFeed’. My good friend Adam Swann has alerted me to this: The Definitive Ranking of Poop. It’s a list of 14 (it would be 14, wouldn’t it).

This simply cannot be bettered.

Spicy Fire Poop

According to BuzzFeed, “Spicy fire poop is pretty funny after the fact, but it’s never a fun experience. At least you’ll have something to talk about at work tomorrow.”