Gain more followers. Add more friends. Increase your Klout score. Get more page views. Get more likes, more subscribers. Go viral.
You want that, right? Everyone wants something like that. Or at least, establishing a strong internet presence is something we're supposed to want on the internet, and there are plenty of services that will keep track of your progress, plenty of people willing to offer or sell you advice, and an innumerable number of people constantly pumping out content with the hopes that they, too, will be one of the lucky ones. You know, up there with memes like Keyboard Cat or YouTubers like PewDiePie. You'll be famous, viral—spread far and wide, quickly. Perhaps you'll even make some money for your trouble.
And that makes sense, right? We don't create things to be ignored; that'd be silly. The places we frequent on the internet are often public forums, to boot. Still, if fame in the real world can be brutal on the stars it blesses, it should follow that going viral on the web isn't all it's cracked up to be, either.
Actually, you might not want to go viral after all.
This story begins with Emily, a teenager majoring in English who requested I keep her last name private. If you've been anywhere on the internet since the 30th of last month, you may already know who she is—or at least heard about her Pinterest board, where she put up a batch of Taylor Swift images with quotes on them. They made the rounds. It's been covered on Buzzfeed, The New York Post, The Daily Dot, The Atlantic, Smosh, and countless other websites.
Thanks to said press and the reaction that followed, things quickly got rough for Emily.
"I have been threatened. I have been told that Hitler should have killed me instead of the Jews."
"My personal Twitter became a public hellhole for all walks of life to contact me," Emily told me in an interview. "I have been called a dickhead, cunt, bitch, hog, whore, and a bunch of other things. I have been threatened. I have been told that Hitler should have killed me instead of the jews."
"I became so stressed by the attention that I barely slept for days, found it hard to concentrate, and felt very robbed of my regular existence. I could not anticipate when or which news outlets would cover my story and I was overwhelmed by how huge it got. I made international news."
All of that...because of a Taylor Swift Pinterest board. Really.
"I have been on Pinterest since like 2011 or so, back when you needed an invite to join. Pinterest has lots of people now and it's much different. On the popular page, there are tons of these 'quote' images. Most of them are Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn or something. 99% of them are untrue," Emily explained.
You don't have to look at Pinterest very long to see that that's true; it seems like teenagers like writing their personal ideologies on pictures of celebrities. Funny how something only becomes more relatable if someone famous says it.
"People say that Marilyn Monroe said some stupid quote that sounded like a tenth grader wrote it in her Justin Bieber diary. They were very annoying and got on my nerves every time I saw them. "
(Not actually a Marilyn Monroe quote.)
(Not actually a Drake quote. Here's a fun game: can you find the real Drake quotes amidst the slew of quotes that likely came from emo high schoolers?)
So Emily came up with a plan: she would take pictures of a celebrity and attach quotes from someone else to them—she wanted to see if other people would fall for the wrongly-attributed inspirational quotes. So she posted them on Pinterest
late last month in July, and after advertising them for a while on her Twitter feed, they began to spread around the Internet.
If there is one thing you can count on on the internet, based on the things people Tumble, Tweet or status-update with, it's that people love vacuous inspirational quotes. People did spread Emily's inspirational quote Pinterest board, without realizing that the board featured Hitler quotes on pictures of Taylor Swift that Emily mashed together (and later, the quotes involved figures such as Osama bin Laden and Joseph Stalin). Nobody realized they were fake until August, when the board went viral.
"I thought of Hitler because it was the most out-there thing I could think of. And I chose Taylor Swift because there are like thousands of Taylor Swift quote boards on Pinterest and those types of people are the same types of people who repin blatantly fake quotes all the time.
"I found some Hitler quotes that were tame and generic enough to be passed off as Taylor Swift and I made them look extra cute and girly so people would repin them. It was a joke, I wanted to see if people were dumb enough to believe it, and they were."
The whole thing was a prank, but an incisive one—a critique of a culture that constantly reproduces meaningless 'inspirational' quotes that are indistinguishable from one another. So much so that it literally doesn't matter who says the quote, or if the quote is real. As long as it's pretty or it sounds deep, right? The web needs its own version of Hallmark, too, and popular image board sites like Pinterest and Tumblr are there to serve that need. Understood under that light, Emily's Pinterest board is not much different than the viral wallpapers that pair captivating pictures with stupid or crass language, which also makes fun of that culture. See, for instance: