A history of online virality
Do you still remember the “Leave Britney Alone!” video’s tearful pleas, which moved thousands of people in 2007 but also inspired parodies? What about “I kiss you” (1999), a personal webpage created by a Turkish man which attracted 12 million visits over five years, or the Million Dollar Homepage launched in 2005, featuring a million pixels which were put up for sale? Were you among the Instagram, Twitter or Facebook users fascinated by “the dress” and its colour in 2015? How about 2013’s Harlem Shake, when thousands of videos of the dance were being uploaded to YouTube every day, or the urban legend Momo (2018), which terrorised an entire generation of teenagers on WhatsApp? Or have you already forgotten all of these digital phenomena, which while immensely influential at the time, ultimately proved ephemeral?
Entitled “A history of online virality” (HIVI), this project (2021-2024), which is led Valérie Schafer at the Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C²DH) / University of Luxembourg and supported by the Luxembourg National Research Fund (C20/SC/14758148), aims to reveal, historicise and communicate about this intangible experience and the heritage of viral content. HIVI will develop a historical framework that informs the analytics of virality and rumours and improves our understanding of current phenomena, some of which are strongly related to past digital cultures. Building on the legacy of past Web cultures as a means of shedding light on current trends, it will explore the history of virality by combining a general narrative with case studies dedicated to precise viral phenomena and their dissemination through time and space, in order to better contextualise them. Drawing on a broad corpus of born-digital heritage, which is maintained online and in Web archiving institutions, HIVI also provides an opportunity to test and deepen digital methods and to refine digital hermeneutics.
HIVI is a project running from 2021 to 2024, which is supported by the Luxembourg National Research Fund (C20/SC/14758148).