Fame on the Web

Celebrity culture was already booming when the Internet changed the very idea of fame. The Internet has as its core benefit or disadvantage the democratization of the spotlight that is media, attention, audience. Fame now also meant outburst on webcam that went viral, with some help of Youtube and the global blogging community.

Fame as a concept is simple and used to be determined by a very sturdy set of rules, all derived from what classic media channels could and would provide in visibility. From a top down machination, sometimes news driven on incidence, fame was crafted, honed, followed a predictable rise or fall. Media hypes took months, just imagine.

Fame had with the Internet, and now always has, new parameters to deal with, in short. And with those at the steering wheel, fame has grown into a far more attainable possibility. The old media concept of fame changed simultaneously as reality television and talent set up shows surged on television, indeed also making fame into a game show format. The Internet simply mirrored this very atmosphere of attainable fame, but digital technology got steroids to back up fame as a purpose to hype levels.

Naming examples of Internet fame in all its many shapes would include pop stars that got their big discovery on a personal YouTube Channel, Instagram celebrities selling clothing and make up by product placement, online gamers and Vine jokers. However, internet fame has a dark side, as many have experienced in our digital times. You can now be famous by being publicly shamed on the web. The examples of bad tweets, bad Facebook posts, leading to horrid public shaming (with help of usually Reddit and 4chan armies of trolls) are numerous, the examples of lives tragically destroyed shocking. Internet fame is a whimsical. Global fame is attainable and global hatred is certainly possible. You win or you loose but it’s always big time.

Above: Justin Bieber YouTube old
The most famous YouTube rise to fame is without a doubt the career of Justin Bieber. As a 13-year-old, the Canadian was wooed by many a music mogul after his YouTube channel became widely known and a larger and larger audience starting following his video posts of R&B covers.

Above: The naked founder
One of the most successful instances of viral social-media protest was the campaign to spread the US charity Invisible Children’s short documentary Kony 2012, make the Ugandan militia leader Joseph Kony’s name globally known, and call on Western political powers to find and arrest the indicted war criminal and his followers. The viral spread of the short film, denounced by critics, was the first of its kind, reaching 83 million views within two weeks. The resulting movement of international poster campaigns and protests made the organisation and its director, Jason Russell, world-famous in the blink of an eye. The sudden attention from the global media and the scrutiny and criticism of his project so unsettled Russell that he suffered a nervous breakdown and was found – and filmed – wandering the streets near his home naked, yelling and demolishing cars. He was hospitalised and diagnosed with acute psychosis as a direct result of his sudden fame, as he explained later in interviews with Oprah Winfrey and members of the international press.

Above: Justine Sacco
Besides being a less-than-ideal place to achieve fame, the Internet is also the most notorious arena for infamy and public shaming. One of the most flagrant examples of public shaming is the story of Justine Sacco, a PR professional from New York City who posted an ill-advised tweet before getting on a long plane ride to South Africa and disembarked to find her life had been ruined. She had been very publicly fired from her job and become the target of an international storm of hatred on social media channels and message boards. When she got off the plane and switched on her phone, she was greeted by onlookers eager to photograph the moment she discovered what had happened while she was offline in the air. The Twitter hashtag calling for vigilante action during her flight was #HasJustineLandedYet. The tweet was, of course, a serious error of judgement on her part but also clearly a not-so-funny critique of ignorant Western prosperity and dominance that was poorly worded and posted on a highly treacherous social media platform. Sacco went into hiding after the onslaught of threats.