On Tuesday I woke up to find myself on page 3 of the Daily Mail. That may be one of the worst ways to start the day, after falling out of bed or realising you’ve run out of milk. My appearance was not the result of taking my clothes off, but the consequence of a “Twitter storm”.
While on holiday in Berlin last weekend I spotted a painting of Catherine the Great which looked remarkably like David Cameron. I tweeted the picture and within hours it had been retweeted thousands of times. This experience has certainly taught me a few things about viral social media.
1. The internet is very cynical
Within minutes of the photograph appearing on Twitter, the mobs appeared claiming Photoshop. I was slightly perturbed at the accusation that I might spend my holidays editing photographs of the prime minister. One person even bizarrely suggested that there was nothing to laugh at because it was actually a painting of Cameron.
2. Anyone can and will copy you
After a few hours I started to find my picture cropping up with the same caption, but no credit to me as the source. It seems ridiculous to get annoyed about something which only exists digitally, but it feels quite violating. These people who shamelessly reproduce jokes on social media will probably be getting coal for Christmas.
3. Your throwaway observation can make the news
Social media doesn’t just share the news any more, it makes the news. It is incredibly surreal for an ordinary person to find themselves in the press for not really doing much at all. Hearing your name on the radio is like listening to someone speaking a different language and suddenly recognising an English word.
4. Nothing is private
When you only have a small number of followers, Twitter can feel like an intimate group of pub friends. But it’s not. It’s no more private than shouting your conversations through a megaphone in the high street. Before this week I’d been quite open with my tweets, reasoning that since I didn’t have that many followers no one would see. When I found the picture in the Mail I made an offhand sarcastic comment to a Twitter follower which then appeared in the Telegraph as part of a paragraph about how I was concerned about potential backlash. This has definitely made me more cautious of using social media.
5. Accidentally going viral is both brilliant and awful
At first it’s exciting seeing your thought going around the world. But then after the 100th message saying the same thing even your own joke can start to get a bit boring. It’s certainly been an interesting experience, but perhaps not one I’d want to happen on a weekly basis. I think my phone would explode if it did.