Shocking Truths of Going Viral Revealed

Behind the Hashtag – The Shocking Truths of Going Viral Revealed

“CHASING SUNSETS OR CHASING LIKES??? … A lot of us, including yours truly, are fans of daredevilry attempts of standing at the edge of cliffs and skyscrapers, but did you know that wind gusts can be FATAL??? Is our life just worth one photo?

The above quote was the last social media post of famous travel blogger, Meenakshi Moorthy, just before she and her husband, Vishnu Viswanath, tragically fell to their deaths from the Taft Point overlook, some 3,500 feet above Yosemite Valley in California.

When you understand that this transpired for the sake of going viral – these words hit home with an exponentially harder effect. The concept of “going viral” is a contemporary idyll of achieving fame, having only been a cultural phenomenon for 15–20 years now. 

In this article, we’ll examine what going viral means in 2024, the lengths that people will go to achieve this often-transient form of fame, and how you can still achieve virality while putting responsible and ethical content creation first.

Magnetized: The Allure of Going Viral on Social Media

By definition, going viral means: when a piece of content spreads quickly across social media platforms, being shared by thousands or even millions of users in a very short period.

The Influence of the Algorithmic Overlords

Make no mistake about it: the unscrupulous epoch of virality in today’s digital world is propagated and completely controlled by social media platforms and their top-secret, billion-dollar algorithms.

We are not in control – these mathematical constructs are; the influence that the inanimate now has on thinking beings is bizarre. Of course, it’s not really the Einsteins of the world that are trapped in this mire; it’s the masses that are more easily swayed.

The negative emotional impact of the social media onslaught is real: we’re just not paying attention to our depressed teens, political corruption, the clamping down on discourse, and how those seeking virality are often attention-obsessed growth hackers.

When Going Viral Doesn’t Mean Becoming a Virus

One must look at the etymological relationship between the words virus and viral. 

A good example of a viral illness, and one that we certainly all know, is COVID-19. It’s called a viral illness because it spread to and infected millions of people all around the world in a very short space of time.

The same wipe-out is unfortunately happening on social media, but it’s not as visibly detrimental as an actual, physical illness, making it a far more pernicious threat to understand and address.

There are standard reasons for wanting to go viral, and these can include:

The dangers of chasing virality are often seen for the purpose of achieving the above-listed goals. 

Then there are those going viral on social media through responsible content creation, often for reasons, such as:

  • Raising awareness for a cause
  • Building a successful career
  • Creating positive change

Going viral doesn’t have to be harmful when it’s done for the right reasons, by the right people, such as for a moral purpose. Let’s take a look at social media ethics and strategies for virality next.

The Key to Social Media Ethics and Strategies for Success

Social Media Ethics and Strategies for Success

There are myriad techniques employed by those with intentions of going viral and here’s the catch: It’s not the techniques that are harmful in and of themselves, but the way they’re used by influencers and social media personalities.

Here are four long-term strategies for online success and how they can be (and often are) warped by those who use them unethically.


  • Positive: A challenge called “What the Fluff” required participants to film their pets’ reactions to people dressed in dog costumes. It was a light-spirited, fun trend that promoted user-generated content (UGC) and quickly picked up global momentum.
  • Negative: When people stoop to scaring or deceiving others for the sake of laughs, it is, quite frankly, very uncool. Viral pranks, such as pretending to fall in front of an unwitting pedestrian, often cause emotional distress and injuries.

Shock Value

  • Positive: Raising awareness and millions of dollars for research, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge put people dumping ice water on themselves on display. It was a beneficial form of going viral on social media as it greatly assisted ALS (formerly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) sufferers.
  • Negative: Promoting risky behavior through dangerous stunts and challenges is when going viral goes wrong. The Tide Pod Challenge had people pretending to eat laundry detergent pods, resulting in numerous cases of poisoning. 

Emotional Storytelling

  • Positive: When a video of a young boy surprising his father (who works in sanitation) with a new truck went viral, it spurred on global conversations about how essential workers must be appreciated more.
  • Negative: There are plenty of examples of questionable social media ethics that play on people’s emotions, manipulating them with inauthentic scenarios purely to gain views. This dissolves trust and creates dissent into negativity.

Tapping into Trending Topics

  • Positive: The COVID-19 pandemic saw a social media explosion as people were confined to their homes with little else to do. Responsible content creation ensued in the form of creators using trending social media challenges to spread awareness about keeping mentally and physically healthy.
  • Negative: Many creators and influencers now piggyback off any trend, irrespective of their relationship to it, appearing disingenuous and catalyzing the spread of mis- and disinformation.

The Best Long-Term Strategies for Online Success

Long-Term Strategies for Online Success

Ultimately, the path forward is as much in the hands of content creators as it is in the hands of their consumers.

We can pull out of the nose dive that we’re taking into this dystopian virality by keeping social media ethics front of mind, even when going viral is the aim.

There are several long-term strategies for online success and going viral on social media in a non-harmful, helpful way:

  1. Create valuable and informative content.
  2. Build an authentic connection with your audience.
  3. Engage in real conversations and build actual relationships.

By following these steps, you’ll be prioritizing high-value content and ethical practices over the often-fleeting fame that going viral affords you.

Taking the Virtuous Path to Going Viral 

It is up to all of us to change the trajectory of what drives online fame and virality.

Creators need to create responsibly and ethically and consumers need to consume in the same vein.

In the digital marketing space, our goals should be to create content that aligns with our audiences’ values and passions, place long-term goals and relationships first, and be mindful of the online world and the mark we leave on it.

The question should never be: What lengths will you go to achieve virality?It should be: What lengths will you go to achieve virality ethically?


Written by Adam Eli Bernhardt


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