Is all publicity really good publicity?

If you cast your mind back, you may remember that there once was a time when news took a while to spread. Fashion, food and language were localised – because they simply didn’t have the means to travel more than a few miles from where they had started out – let alone several times around the world in less than a few minutes. News articles, local legends and photos (when they came into existence) stayed put where they were – resulting in many a journalistic gem being hidden from the world and missed by millions.

What does viral mean?

The term ‘viral’ is often used to describe anything on the internet which gains mass publicity and exposure and is seen or viewed by millions of people. Much like their biological counterparts, viral videos and images spread quickly and seep into every crevice of the media. They can be found in every newspaper, magazine, television show, and of course, on every newsfeed.

The perils of posting to the World Wide Web

By the power of social media, something can go viral within minutes. Once it’s posted on the internet – it’s up there. If you’re lucky (or unlucky) enough for it to be taken by someone and posted again and again gaining global coverage, it becomes very difficult to undo what you have done. Now it is saved and shared on millions of computers by billions of people.

Popular Youtube comedian Nicole Arbour recently found herself at the centre of a discrimination-related viral video storm – after her ‘Dear Far People’ rant received so many complaints it was taken down immediately by Youtube.

The rather insensitive video targeted ‘all fat people’ to explain her viewpoint, which categorically placed the blame for being ‘fat’ upon fat people themselves, without taking into account any psychological or medical reasons behind somebody’s size or weight. Beneath the bravado and cringe-inducing fat jibes, the core message behind Arbour’s video appeared well-meaning – as she also went a step further to tell viewers that ‘fat shaming’ was actually a good thing, as it forced overweight people to make healthier choices and to live longer.

Unsurprisingly, this upset a lot of people – who immediately took to the site to complain resulting in Youtube’s automatic response unit suspending Arbour’s account and removing the video, albeit temporarily.

Now restored, the video has triggered a stream of identically viral response videos, in which people who have been bullied for being ‘fat’ or struggle with their weight have taken to Youtube to reprimand her and point out that actually, there are a range of causes behind obesity besides laziness and wilful overeating.

However amidst the barrage of negative publicity and response videos posted by bloggers who campaign for the abolition of plus size and better body image, some are applauding the comedian for raising the all too real issue that obesity is an epidemic – and for some, it is a health problem caused by overeating, a reliance on convenience foods and lack of self-responsibility.

Should Youtube and other social media providers have stricter controls over offensive content?

Content (and censorship) continues to be a huge issue plaguing the shiny world of social media. Every network has come under fire at some point or another for allowing offensive content (be it videos, comments or photographs) to be posted and shared on their site without being taken down or censored. However the question is: what is the scale on which we can measure whether content is explicit or not? Some find Arbour’s video hilarious – whilst others were so offended by it they complained and asked for it to be taken down.

Quite rightly, Arbour herself took to Twitter along with others to point out that whilst snuff videos, pornography, racist memes, ISIS propaganda and photographs of dead people were often left unscathed by the hand of the Youtube censorship team, her satirical video had been taken down immediately without warning.

Censorship is something both UK and US governments have deplored, debated and reprimanded social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter and Google about for a while now. News coverage is subject to a set of universally-accepted rules – yet online, it appears ‘anything goes’. After all, when something goes viral, the publicity and user figures for the site in question go through the roof – making them more money as a consequence. So where is the incentive to take things down if they offend users?

The answer may lie in mass boycotts of certain sites – and public backlash from much-misled minority groups to force the likes of Youtube to change their ways, introducing stricter rules and enforcing tougher sanctions on those who break them – however popular they may be. Either way, it looks as though freedom of speech online (and the offence which can naturally accompany it) is here to stay for a good while.

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