“i went viral + here’s what happened”

In an effort to make my online presence as a writer a bit more cohesive, I will be taking pieces of mine published on various platforms and adding them to my LipLiner portfolio.  First up is a piece originally published for The Odyssey at SUNY New Paltz in February 2016 — “I Went Viral & Here’s What Happened”.  Enjoy!  

It is in this day and age that good spreads quickly and the bad, weird, or interesting spreads even faster. We are quick to look for and share what resonates with us on our newsfeeds, yet often forget that there are people that live beyond our favorite memes and viral posts.

Brandon Stanton’s project, Humans of New York, has become wildly popular since its 2010 creation. Stanton interviews your average passersby on the streets of the Big Apple (and beyond) and shows his viewers (almost 19 million on Facebook alone!) that there is something remarkable and notable to everyone — that we all have stories that are worth telling.

On February 6, 2016, I saw a familiar face posted by Stanton. My good friend’s mom made it onto his page, and though it was her fur coat that was initially eye-catching, it was her words that remain memorable:

Image c/o Brandon Stanton via Facebook

“I work for a plumbing company. You probably wouldn’t guess by looking at me, but I talk about toilets all day long. I mainly work in sales. But if the toilets are broken, I’ll handle that too. You should see the reaction I get from a group of guys when I tell them that I’m here to fix the toilets.”

When Kelley DeBetta’s “HONY” post went online, the image garnered a large-scale amount of attention rather quickly. To date, it has an impressive 600,000 likes between the attention it received on both Facebook and Instagram, and over 10,000 comments. It was an obscene amount of attention she did not know the popular blog held. “When Brandon approached me I didn’t have the slightest idea who he was or what his site was about,” DeBetta told me. “As he was explaining to me what he actually did, two different people passed us and commented about how awesome he was and how they follow him every day. I still didn’t understand the magnitude of what ‘Humans of New York’ was until my daughter Elyssa explained to me in detail.”

DeBetta found herself in the lens of public scrutiny, where thousands of people (mostly strangers across the world, mind you) saw it fit to add their commentary unto her life. “I was blown away that so many people actually took the time to either like or comment on the photo. Everyone is so busy in today’s world, but they still had the time to post their thoughts and feelings off of one picture of me.

Today, we are so accessible by means of technology, and DeBetta saw that all too quickly. “I feel like the mix of comments were equally good and bad. I focused on the positive ones that promoted “girl power” and anything positive about working and taking care of one’s family. I equally laughed at some of the weak jokes or the controversy over my fur coat. I was truly impressed with the people that stood up for me without even knowing me personally.” Though it was probably those that do know her personally that felt the most affected by what was being said, particularly DeBetta’s daughter, Elyssa. Kelley attributes this mostly to the culture that young people today are inevitably immersed in and surrounded by and is quick to remind us that not only is there a person behind the caption of our favorite Facebook shares, but there is life beyond our news feed. “I think [the negative comments] might have really affected me when I was younger. I have dealt with being talked about my entire life and I have learned and grown through the years. Maybe one would say I have really thick skin now. But what I have found is the majority of the time when someone is saying something negative about you that it really speaks volumes about them; their comments are usually based on jealousy or envy. Once you look at the negativity with that clear vision, holding your head high becomes easy.”

It is crucial to remember that experiencing things with such a sense of togetherness by making use of the technology we have today ultimately is uncharted territory. We have to make a choice in allowing it to unite us for good rather than malice.


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