What makes a video go viral on social media?
After seeing my friend Anarchy Princess achieve viral fame for trolling former Trump advisor Peter Navarro and having experienced my own viral moment for heckling the Patriot Front, I think it comes down to three factors: simple, visual, inspiring.
The Anarchy Princess video is a simple tableau: a woman standing up to a grabby man. With her shades on, AP cooly holds her “Trump Lost” sign out of the reach of Navarro, adding the rejoinder, “Bro, you’re already facing charges.”
After a judge ruled against him in his criminal contempt case, former Trump advisor Peter Navarro attempts to snatch a "Trump lost" sign from a protester at his press conference.
This girl is AWESOME 🔥🔥
— Skyleigh Heinen (@Sky_Lee_1) August 30, 2023
Two people in a frame. A famous man and an unknown woman expressing her First Amendment rights.
It’s such a simple video that no explanation is needed. You can see it on screen: a man is trying (and failing) to bully a woman.
But there’s a lot of backstory behind this seemingly simple moment.
Navarro had just lost his court case on executive privilege. He was one of the architects behind the January 6th coup attempt, author of the notorious Green Bay Sweep designed to disenfranchise millions of Americans and install Trump as President for Life.
Anarchy Princess was inspired by a man named Meatwad.
She had seen Meatwad, a Freedom Corner regular, hold up a pro-January 6th sign up during a live broadcast and decided to duplicate the idea when Navarro came out to address (and insult) the media.
But you don’t need to know any of that, because the video itself tells the story: a woman standing up to a powerful man.
You don’t need sound to understand the AP video. A flustered man turns around and tries to grab a sign while a woman holds it out of reach. A simple conflict captured in a few seconds of video.
The same is true for my viral video. Part of its success was due to the framing. Filmed by Skyflyer Channel 8 News (who isn’t credited), it presents me seemingly alone on a red bike standing up against a phalanx of Proud Boys.
This is a visual language that we understand from movies and TV shows. The lone hero.
Of course, this is a simplification, because just out of frame are about forty police officers on bikes. And a couple of other hecklers. But we don’t see that, for the video is taken from my perspective, over my shoulder, as if you’re the one facing off against the fascists.
This is the most important element to going viral.
As soon as I saw AP’s video, I knew it was going to go viral. It was simple, visual and inspiring. She won her little battle with Navarro and he looked like a fool.
“This girl is AWESOME” was one of the early comments. And then the video took off, going from C-SPAN to the Republican Accountability Project to the Young Turks, getting amplified by almost the same set of channels which blew up my video in May.
There is a hunger for inspiring videos. We want to see good triumph over evil. We want to see the January 6th coup plotters and Trump dead-enders punished.
The AP video provides encouragement for all who stand up against fascism. It tells people to be brave. It shows that anyone can be a hero.
You Can’t Make a Viral Video
When I rolled up to the Patriot Front on a red bike, I expected to see Anarchy Princess yelling at them.
When she wasn’t there, I decided that I needed to represent. I live in DC and saw what happened on January 6th. No way are we going to let fascist groups march through the city unhindered again.
I didn’t know I was being filmed. Going viral was a complete surprise.
But a thirty-second clip made her famous.
In addition to being simple, visual and inspiring, viral videos capture something ineffable in the zeitgeist. They connect with an unexpressed need in the audience. They are creatures of the moment, like fireflies, magical and briefly luminous.
You can’t make a viral video. But you can make videos that are simple, visual and inspiring. The audience will make them viral – or not. They decide how to make a viral video.