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The 20 Most Important Online Videos Of All Time

Web video – which slowly grew from web-cams and MPEG videos in the ’90s to the streaming video of YouTube and Vimeo – has ushered in a new era of instant global sharing. Whether it’s cats from Japan, music videos from Korea, or political news from Egypt, the world will never be the same.

JenniCam (1996)

Beginning in 1996, Jennifer Ringley started publishing a web-cam transmitting her everyday activities live. She kept her cam live nearly 24 hours a day for seven years. Ringley was sometimes shown nude or engaging in sexual behavior, and there was certainly a pornographic angle to the project. But she would also eat, sleep, work, talk about her life, and play with her pet ferrets (she was on the cover of Modern Ferret magazine in the late ’90s) on camera, all the time. At the height of JenniCam’s personality, Jennifer’s activities were monitored by as many as three to four million people a day and she made a living off of paid subscriptions. She appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman on July 31, 1998. On December 31, 2003, Ringley shut JenniCam.com down over PayPal’s new anti-nudity policy, but before she turned off the camera she had a huge impact on the future of pornography, television, and the whole idea of privacy.

“I keep JenniCam live not because I want or need to be watched, but because I simply don’t mind being watched.” - Jennifer Ringley

All Your Base Are Belong To Us (2001)

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All Your Base Are Belong to Us was one of the earliest memes, sweeping virally across the internet as early as 1998. The original phrase stemmed from an awkward translation of the phrase “all of your bases are under our control” from the video game Zero Wing, a 16-bit shooter originally realeaed in 1989. The phrase snowballed in 2000, spawning countless image macros and flash animations. This music video featuring the phrase became famous in its own right, and was originally uploaded in 2001.

Christian the Lion (2002)

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Way back in 1969, Christian the lion was purchased by John Rendall and Ace Bourke from Harrods department store. Christian was eventually reintroduced to the African wild by conservationist George Adamson. A year after he was released to the wild, Bourke and Rendall decided to go looking for him to see whether he would remember them. Video depicting the result was used in the documentary Christian, The Lion at World’s End, released in the early ’70s, and then it was largely forgotten.

A clip from the reunion was was edited together and first posted on the web in 2002. It was later spread on MysSpacce, and YouTube, where it became a global phenomenon, being viewed millions of times and in several versions featuring music and captions. The video remains one of the most enduring favorites do perhaps to the unbeatable combination of life-affirming emotional content and (big) cats doing cute things.

Me at the Zoo (2005)

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This 19 second clip of Jawed Karim explaining why he likes elephants might seem unremarkable, but Me at the zoo was the first video ever to be uploaded to YouTube.com. It was uploaded by Karim – who co-founded YouTube – at 8:27 pm on Saturday, April 23, 2005.

SNL Digital Short: Lazy Sunday (2005)

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Lazy Sunday is a music video by The Lonely Island, broadcast on , and was the second Digital Short in the show’s history. The song was performed by Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell, and was written by the two comedians as well as Lonely Island members Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. Lazy Sunday was written in one night, recorded the next night, and approved for broadcast the next day for that night’s telecast of Saturday Night Live. Writers worried about how the video would be received – they hardly could have predicted the wild success it would garner on the internet virtually overnight. Many hailed the video as a large part of the revival of a stagnant and dated series. It certainly impacted the way mainstream TV would come to view and value the potential of viral/social success online. SNL has now aired 101 digital shorts.

LonelyGirl15 Hoax (2006)

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Lonelygirl15 was a web-based video series which began in June 2006 and ran through to August 1, 2008. Originally presented as the real web log of a sixteen-year-old girl named Bree, the series was “outed” as fake in September of 2006 after viewers identified Bree as 19-year old actress Jessica Rose. The show’s creators took the reveal in stride, evolving the series into a multi-character arc within a complex universe. A 2006 episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent was based on the lonelygirl15 phenomenon.

OK Go’s “Here It Goes Again” Music Video (2006)

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OK Go’s Here It Goes Again was released eight years into their career, and remains the band’s only single to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, mostly due to it’s incredibly popular, virally-spead music video featuring the boys dancing on treadmills. The video has had tens of millions of views of YouTube, and set a new precedent for the potential of music videos to flourish online as they were being relegated to the middle of the night on television.

Justin Bieber (2007)

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In early 2007, when he was just 12-years-old, Justin Bieber sang Ne-Yo’s So Sick for a local singing competition, and his mother posted a video of the performance on YouTube. Although it was initially for their family and friends, she continued to upload videos of Bieber singing covers of his favorite R&B songs and he began to gain popularity and a decent-sized fan-base on the site throughout 2007. In 2008, talent manager Scooter Braun stumbled onto Bieber’s videos and was immediately taken with him, tracking the kid down by identifying the theater he was performing in, contacting his school, and eventually speaking to his mother and becoming his manager. Bieber’s first single was released in 2009. Whether you are a Belieber or now, the rest is history.

Hillary 1984 (2007)

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One of the first political ads that felt native to the web, Hillary 1984 was a pro-Obama political video that combined footage of the presidential campaign announcement of Hillary Clinton with a famous 1984 Super Bowl commercial for the launch of Macintosh by Apple, Inc. However, Hillary 1984 was not created by the Obama campaign. “It’s somebody else’s creation,” said campaign spokesman Bill Burton.

Later, Phil de Vellis revealed that he was the creator of the ad. He had worked for Blue State Digital, a new media and technology firm that provided services for Obama’s campaign, but he resigned (or was terminated, depending on who you ask) in the wake of the scandalous advert.

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“Don’t Tase Me Bro” (2007)

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On September 17, 2007, Sen. John Kerry addressed University of Florida students in Gainesville. 21-year-old Andrew Miller entered into a line of questioning and was eventually escorted away from the microphone, but resisted the campus security and was arrested by the University’s police. Miller resisted arrest, yelling for “help” and asking what he had done wrong, while the police struggled to keep him restrained. One of the officers eventually withdrew his taser, causing Miller to plead “don’t tase me bro!” He was subsequently tasered. Several videos of the incident were posted to YouTube and they have millions of views. The Yale Book of Quotations designated the exclamation as the most memorable quote of 2007, and The New Oxford American Dictionary made “tase/taze” one of their words of the year.

Message to Scientology from Anonymous (2008)

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The first public appearance of the internet activist group “Anonymous” was a hack of a variety of Church of Scientology websites, preceded by this statement of intent that was released to YouTube on Monday, January 21, 2008. The statement:

“Hello, leaders of Scientology. We are Anonymous.”

“Over the years, we have been watching you. Your campaigns of misinformation; your suppression of dissent; your litigious nature, all of these things have caught our eye. With the leakage of your latest propaganda video into mainstream circulation, the extent of your malign influence over those who have come to trust you as leaders has been made clear to us. Anonymous has therefore decided that your organization should be destroyed. For the good of your followers; for the good of mankind; and for our own enjoyment, we shall proceed to expel you from the Internet and systematically dismantle the Church of Scientology in its present form.”

“We recognize you as serious opponents, and do not expect our campaign to be completed in a short time frame. However, you will not prevail forever against the angry masses of the body politic. Your choice of methods, your hypocrisy, and the general artlessness of your organization have sounded its death knell. You have nowhere to hide because we are everywhere.”

“You will find no recourse in attack because for each of us that falls, ten more will take his place. We are cognizant of the many who may decry our methods as parallel to those of the Church of Scientology. Those who espouse the obvious truth that your organization will use the actions of Anonymous as an example of the persecution of which you have for so long warned your followers. This is acceptable to Anonymous; in fact, it is encouraged.”

“We are your SPs. Over time, as we begin to merge our pulse with that of your church, the suppression of your followers will become increasingly difficult to maintain. Believers will become aware that salvation needn’t come at the expense of their livelihood. They will become aware that the stress and the frustration that they feel is not due to us, but a source much closer to them.”

“Yes, we are SPs but the sum of suppression we could ever muster is eclipsed by that of your own RTC.”

“Knowledge is free.
We are Anonymous.
We are Legion.
We do not forgive.
We do not forget.
Expect us.”

Yes We Can (2008)

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will.i.am composed this song using Barack Obama’s concession speech from the New Hampshire presidential primary, although the Obama campaign wasn’t directly involved. The video features a variety of celebrities echoing Obama’s words in a call-and-response manner as his Obama’s speech plays. The super-viral video has been watched a combined total of 22 million times and had an unmeasurable but undeniably major impact on Obama’s campaign.

Maru (2008)

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It’s hard to imagine a world without Maru, but he was born just over five years ago in Japan, and his first video was published on July 10, 2008. Since then, Maru has amassed a huge global fanbase and served as the adorable, strange ambassador for cat videos as a genre and, therefore, for the entire internet. I shudder to imagine where we would be without him.

The Death of Nedā Āghā-Soltān (2009)

“The most widely witnessed death in human history.” -Time

Nedā Āghā-Soltān was an aspiring/underground musician in Iran who had not been very political until the controversial 2009 elections, when she began casually attending protests. On June 20, 2009, she was observing protests when she was shot in the chest. She collapsed to the ground and died within minutes, although she was rushed to the hospital in the aftermath. All of this was caught on amateur video, which was uploaded online and was trending globally by the end of the day. Her death had an impact on Iranian politics, and it has been speculated that she is already been hailed as a martyr among many Iranians. Meanwhile, several members of the Iranian government have claimed that the videos of her death were a Western conspiracy, and the Iranian embassy in London sent a letter of protest to the The Queen’s College in Oxford about the college establishing a scholarship in Philosophy in Āghā-Soltān’s name.

Asmaa Mahfouz’s Vlogs (2011)

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In January of 2011, Asmaa Mahfouz posted a series of video blogs to Facebook, calling on her fellow Egyptians to demand their human rights. The video above challenges Egyptians to take to the street on the national Egyptian holiday of January 25. She is credited by many journalists as being an integral spark for the 2011-2012 Egyptian revolution.

“If you think yourself a man, come with me on 25 January. Whoever says women shouldn’t go to protests because they will get beaten, let him have some honor and manhood and come with me on 25 January. Whoever says it is not worth it because there will only be a handful of people, I want to tell him, ‘You are the reason behind this, and you are a traitor, just like the president or any security cop who beats us in the streets.”

Occupy Pepper Spray Incident at UC Davis (2011)

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During a peaceful Occupy Wall Street protest at the University of California, Davis, demonstrators were asked to leave and refused, sitting on a paved path on the campus. University police pepper-sprayed the group, and a still of Lt. John Pike, seen in this video, went viral. The resulting meme, of Pike pepper-spraying famous celebrities and works of art, blurred the line between humor and politics, and sparked a national debate about pepper spray, Occupy Wall Street, and police brutality.

Pussy Riot Protest in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow (2012)

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Five members of feminist punk-rock collective Pussy Riot staged a protest performance at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and published this music video depicting their actions, titled Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!, the very same day. Three of the groups members were arrested within the month and charged with hooliganism. They have since each been sentenced to two years imprisonment, a punishment that has been shocking to many world-wide, especially in the West. The video has managed to remain on YouTube, and those curious about the trial and the original protest can virtually witness it themselves.

KONY 2012 (2012)

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Kony 2012 was created to promote the Invisible Children charity’s “Stop Kony” movement, an attempt to make Ugandan cult and militia leader Joseph Kony globally known in order to aid in his arrest by the self-imposed deadline of December 2012. The film spread quickly and at the time of writing has well over 92 million views on YouTube and an addition 16+ million views of Vimeo. The film sparked an intense controversy about both the potential power of viral video in activism and about the responsibilities therein. Many praised the video for its emotional appeal and for bringing attention to an issue that may have previously been overlooked. But the video’s detractors say that it oversimplified the issue, exaggerated to make certain points, and that the charity itself was irresponsible with money raised. There’s also the concern, particularly among Ugandans, over the fact that the film is unclear about the fact that Kony and his forces fled Uganda in 2006. For better or worse, the incredibly widespread viral spread of the video was unprecedented for a charitable cause.

PSY’s “Gangnam Style” Music Video (2012)

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This K-pop single was released on July 15, 2012, where it debuted at number one on the Gaon chart. But the music video, which was been viewed over 292 million times, is the site’s most watched K-pop video in history and, according the the Guinness Book of World Records, the most “liked” video in YouTube history. Gangnam Style flash mobs have appeared all over the world and the video has been subject to countless parodies, including videos by the Oregon duck, the US Naval Academy, the Royal Thai Navy, and the North Korean government. On September 4th, it was confirmed that Psy had been signed to Justin Bieber’s manager Scooter Braun’s record label, and Braun said that he and Psy had decided to “make some history together. Be the first Korean artist to break a big record in the United States.”

Innocence of Muslims

Innocence of Muslims (also known as Muhammad Movie Trailerand The Real Life of Muhammad) is an anti-Islam that was originally uploaded to YouTube in July 2012, dubbed in Arabic and uploaded in early September 2012, and eventually broadast on the Egyptian Islamist TV station Al-Nas TV on September 9, 2012. Demonstrations and violent protests against the film broke out on September 11 in Egypt and Libya, and spread to other nations thereafter. Although the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya which resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans was initially linked to the video, U.S. and Libyan officials now believe that it may have been an unrelated pre-planned attack. Regardless, the “trailer’s” controversial and religiously offensive material has sparked a national and global debate about freedom of speech. Although there have been attempts to have the video removed from YouTube, Barack Obama spoke on the topic on September 25 and said

“I know there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws: our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech. Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. As President of our country, and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so. Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views—even views that we profoundly disagree with. Now, I know that not all countries in this body share this understanding of the protection of free speech. We recognize that. But in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete. The question, then, is how do we respond. And on this we must agree: there is no speech that justifies mindless violence. There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents.”

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