This just in: A video of a man fighting off a shark in the Sydney Harbour has gone viral. The video shows a young man, Terry Tufferson, jumping into the ocean with his GoPro camera. Shortly after jumping in, his friend starts shouting "Shark, shark!" Terry quickly submerges under the water to see if his friend was telling the truth. To his and our surprise, a gigantic shark was circulating beneath his feet. At this point, all you can hear is Terry's horrifying scream as he starts frantically swimming away. Unfortunately for Terry, the shark took notice and started darting towards him. Out of fear, Terry starts kicking his legs frantically at the shark. Luckily, the shark did not like this one bit and decided to steer away. You can see the relief on Terry's face as he sets foot on land in one piece. All I can say is that Terry is a very lucky man because his rendezvous with the shark could have ended quite horribly.
Sounds pretty scary doesn't it? Well no need to worry because it's fake!
The video that explains it all.
On July 11, 2016, Woolshed Co., an Australian production studio, revealed they were behind the creation of eight viral YouTube videos. The company disclosed that they crafted fake YouTube identities to post these videos. But that's not the juicy part! The company announced that these videos posted by these fake accounts were staged.
Dave Christison, the managing director of Woolshed Co., revealed to Guardian Australia that they released eight videos as a part of "…a two year social experiment exploring the phenomenon of viral videos." They wanted to figure out how to produce content that would spread worldwide without the help of advertising.
Man takes a selfie with a tornado. It can't get crazier than that!
After releasing the first two videos, "GoPro: Man Fights Off Great White Shark In Sydney Harbour" and "Crazy Guy Runs Into Outback Tornado To Take Selfie," their experiment was proven to be a success. Both videos received over 10,000,000 views.
After the success of the first few videos, the company released six more with the help of Screen Australia. And sure enough, the other videos also became huge sensations. All eight videos combined gained over 205 million views, 1.6 million likes, and were viewed in over 180 countries. The videos became the hottest topic in top news and entertainment outlets.
Have you ever seen a video so electrifying?
To sum up this video: 29 seconds of epic failure
Dave Christison believes the videos' success came from the viewers arguing over their authenticity. He states, "you must create an element of doubt but present it as real, so an argument and debate is created over the authenticity. That was key to our success." In other words, since the videos are so unbelievably shocking, people start to question whether the situation could've happened. Then people will share the videos with others to see whether they think it's real. This is how the Woolshed videos gained so many views.
The first time you watch one of the videos, it looks quite real. This is because the videos usually start off with showing an ordinary situation. Then the the camera seems to "accidentally" capture some crazy moment. This is exemplified in "USA vs JAPAN - Ultimate Selfie Stick Fight" and "Snowboarder Girl Chased By Bear - I Was Singing Rihanna Work And Didn't Know It Was Behind Me!".
But once you watch the videos a second time, you do start to question their authenticity. You start to see small flaws within the video. If you watch the videos a third time, you are guaranteed to notice that there is something off.
BUT. This isn't the first time we have been tricked on the Internet.
Who remembers when an eagle picked up a baby and dropped it on the ground?
Or what about the video of an adorable pig rescuing a baby goat from drowning?
We all know by now that we shouldn't believe everything we read or see online. Yet, so many of us still fall for these videos. What makes these videos so successful and believable? Is it purely the creator's Photoshop skills? I think to answer this question we must look at the nature of viral videos.
What makes a video go viral?
To look at how successful videos generate shares, I use research from Porter and Golan who are digital media researchers at Louisiana State University. Through their studies, Porter and Golan have discovered that the most successful viral videos are those that produce an emotional connection with the viewer. Also, they found that these successful videos generate excitement through provocative or crude content. They theorized that content containing sex, violence, comedy, and nudity receives more shares than other videos. This seems to be the case in Woolshed's videos. All the Woolshed Co. videos use either violence or comedy to grab the viewers' attention. For example, when the Storm trooper falls down the stairs, it evokes a comedic yet violent reaction.
Other media researchers, such as Alberto Defante-Gomez, believe that using an element of surprise increases a videos chances of being shared. Dafante-Gomez discovered that videos including an element of surprise in combination with one of the other five emotions (happiness, disgust, fear, sadness, and rage) increases the likelihood that viewers will share a video. This theory is evident in all of Woolshed videos. The YouTube accounts just happen to capture the most surprising scenarios in their everyday lives. I don't know what is more surprising than a man encountering a shark, a snowboarder being chased by a bear, or a girl being struck by lighting.
Now that we know how the Woolshed Company achieved viral success, we can look at why viewers believed the videos were real. As mentioned above, videos go viral because they evoke some sort of emotional connection with the viewer. We don't want to make a connection with something fake because this would mean that our connection was fake as well. We want to believe our emotional connections are real. As a result, I believe that we let these emotional connections cloud our initial judgment.
Even Dave Christison said so himself in an interview with AdNews:
There we have it folks. This is how you make a viral video without it having to be real. Just create something that will mess with people's emotions!
Now here is my question for you: Was Woolshed Co. able to fool you?
* Dafonte-Gomez, A. (2014). From motivation to emotion in the most shared videos. Comunicar Journal, 22, retrieved from https://arxiv.org/pdf/1505.02002.pdf.
* Dobele, A., Lindgreen, A., Beverland, M., Vanhamme, J. & Van-Wijk, R. (2007). Why pass on viral messages? Because they connect emotionally. Business Horizons, 50, 291-304.
* Porter, L., and Golan, G. (2006). From subservient chickens to brawny men: A comparison of viral advertising to television advertising. Journal of Interactive Advertising, 6 (2), 30–38.