I’m old enough to remember when to hear that something had ”gone viral” was a frightening expression. It meant the rapid spread of disease and death. You know. Like a virus.
Now, of course, it means that something has really caught the attention of a great many people over Twitter, Facebook and other pipes of the internet. That it is being shared from one person to another, one circle of friends to another, picked up over and over in a way that no one did, or could have, planned.
It might be good or bad, or it might be seen as good by people of one political or social group and bad by another. Both of whom might be moved to share it some more.
A couple of things that started out in The Salt Lake Tribune over the last few weeks have quite clearly “gone viral.” In, mostly, a good way.
The incident you all know about, of course, is the story of the Salt Lake City police detective who went not viral but ballistic in roughing up and briefly detaining a University Hospital nurse. He was mad because she, rightly, was blocking his illegal attempt to get a blood sample from an accident victim in her care.
The incident happened more than a month ago, and came to light only when the nurse, Alex Wubbels, grew tired of waiting for some official action against the detective and went, not viral, but public.
The write-up and embedding of video recordings of the incident that began in The Tribune and other local media were been picked up, shared, commented on and made the hook for other people’s thoughts in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Time, The New Yorker, The Guardian and The Hartford Courant, among others.
Mostly, they gave the locals credit for breaking the story. Even if some of them, again, mistakenly called this newspaper The Salt Lake City Tribune. (No. It’s just not called that. I’m not sure why.)
The initial story and several of the follow-ups have remained at or near the top of our web traffic counts ever since. Which has been good for The Tribune, mostly good for the nurse and, as far as I can tell, suitably bad for the cop.
There is another internet virus that began in The Salt Lake Tribune over the last several weeks. This one started more slowly and with no video at all. Just, apparently, someone’s cellphone photo of a letter printed in the Aug. 20 Public Forum.
It expressed Ramey’s frustration, as the daughter of two World War II veterans — a nurse and a bomber navigator — who risked it all and lost many friends, only to leave her generation living in a nation where expressing racist, nationalist, Nazi-iike sentiments has suddenly become socially permissible again. At least in some circles.
Somebody — I can’t tell who — took what looks like a cellphone photo of the letter as it appeared in print and put in on social media. It would have boosted The Tribune’s all -important web traffic numbers if, instead of the somewhat retro method of a photo of a piece of paper, the original person would have tweeted a link to the online version of the letter. Oh, well.
One person who turned around and shared that post with her friends and followers was film historian Alicia Mayer. Her retweet said: ”’Letter of the Week’ or ‘Letter of the goddam YEAR?’ ”
Mayer, who hastened to tell me in a Facebook Messenger exchange that that was the first time she has used such rough language on social media, saw her tweet picked up by some of her show business friends, people who by their nature have lots of other friends. And the original post was off to viral heaven.
As of Thursday night, Mayer’s original tweet had 1,600 comments, 83,000 retweets and 171,000 likes. Among the retweets was one on the Twitter feed of actor and internet Twitterati George Takei. There, Takei’s retweet of Mayer’s retweet of Ramey’s letter had grown, as of Thursday night, to 3,100 retweets and 8,100 likes.
It was all enough to get The Washington Post to do an article on the Ramey letter and how it spread so rapidly, an article that also was tweeted, shared and otherwise sent off around the World Wide Web.
It may not be enough to counter $100,000 worth of Facebook ads placed by Russian spies who were out to tilt the election toward the eventual winner. But it’s a step in that direction.
George Pyle is the Tribune’s editorial page editor. The only thing viral about him is the awful cold he gets almost every February.