To: Joshua Errett
From: Total Asshole
Subject: You gotta check this!!!!
This is an example of an email I receive on a regular basis: an inane subject line, then a long, unruly link to whichever viral video is trending that day.
For the past few years, this is more or less how the media have presented the same videos: no context, no explanation, no effort, simply cutting-and-pasting a video that's racking up views somewhere online.
I'm offended by this. And you should be, too. At what point did it become acceptable to shove viral videos in someone's face without any explanation?
Not only is it irritating, but it can be shady, too.
Take the recent video of the intoxicated man in the back of a police car singing Bohemian Rhapsody. Without knowing the circumstances, that was a pretty hilarious clip.
But throw the context back in and it gets less and less funny. Robert Wilkinson, the man in the video, has been pulled over multiple times for drunk driving. He is in the back of an RCMP vehicle on this occasion on those very stops - for impaired driving and refusing to take a breathalyzer.
He was made into a hero in the Canadian media. By the time the details of his arrest came out, many felt forced to defend their celebration of the video. The National Post even went so far as to suggest the charges had been trumped up.
It gets more complex, though. The allegedly drunk driver, who uploaded the video of his antics turned over to him by prosecutors, is in a position to make money off it.
This week, YouTube launched a Canadian partner program, allowing content-creating YouTube users to monetize viral videos with advertising. YouTube, for its part, will help make partner videos go viral.
(In this case, EMI, the owners of the rights of the Queen hit, get most of the advertising bucks off the video.)
So the more information that comes with a video, specifically who's making money off it, the better. That responsibility rests with whoever is pushing it, be it YouTube, the Huffington Post or the idiot barraging my inbox.
And viewers are already starting to demand more information. Just ask the producers of the Kony2012 video, who were subjected to intense, worldwide scrutiny after their video went through the viral machine.
So the next time http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqeC3BPYTmE or something like it arrives in an email, don't click it. Email back and demand an explanation. What in god's name is this? Why should I watch it? What are you trying to accomplish by sending it? And why thrust it upon me in such a passive-aggressive manner?
Anyone can upload a video. Anyone can share a video. And anyone can watch it. But do you want to be just another anyone?