The problem with the Internet is that it gives you everything — reliable material and crazy material. So the problem becomes, how do you discriminate? —Umberto Eco
According to the Urban Dictionary, “Breaking the Internet” is defined thusly:
Causing a large commotion on the world wide web with many social networks and news outlets discussing the same thing.
Earlier this week, I looked at Twitter and found the hashtag #LSUGirlsBreakTheInternet trending. My first thought was, “Why? What did they do? Was it something really cool? Did they make a major impact in the lives of poor people in Louisiana? Did they achieve some incredible athletic or academic performance? Maybe they made some fantastic statement against the college rape culture. I was expecting to see an impressive reason behind the hashtag.
My expectations were unfounded. All the girls were doing was taking and posting pictures of themselves on Twitter. That’s it. Their hope was to produce enough volume to get the hashtag trending, which they did for a brief moment, but there was no substance behind them other than, “Hey, look at me!”
The girls at LSU are not the only ones to try this shallow attempt at momentary glory. #ULGirlsBreakTheInternet and #SouthernGirlsBreakTheInternet have also had their trending moments over the past week. None were trending for long. None jumped over to any other social media. They did not break the Internet. They didn’t even come close.
What Breaks The Internet?
Breaking the Internet takes more than just a few cell phone pictures. To achieve the level of attention necessary to actually strain global bandwidth by even the slightest degree requires doing something that carries cross-cultural interest, something that exceeds any geographic boundaries, something that people looking at the Internet cannot ignore. One would think that kind of attention would be limited to major world events and tragedies. Certainly, something with global implications, like the Brexit, would break the Internet, right?
Close, but not quite. Attention and panic over Britain’s departure from the European Union continue to generate a tremendous amount of traffic, but it is spread out over days, not confined to one sudden moment when everyone on the planet seems to be looking. The same applies to tragedies such as the airport bombing in Turkey and the mass shooting in Orlando. Both were events that drew significant attention, but traffic was spread out enough to not put any pressure on Internet infrastructure.
What does break the Internet? Boobs and butts apparently, especially when they belong to famous faces. Put an extremely famous butt on the cover of Paper magazine and the world just goes nuts. Let Beyoncé strut or slither nearly naked through a new music video and everyone’s suddenly drinking lemonade. Famous people naked. That breaks the Internet.
Breaking The Internet Isn’t Easy
A lot of people try to break the Internet. A lot of people fail. Sometimes it’s funny. Comedienne Ellen Degeneres and her wife, Portia di Ross, attempted to break the Internet with their holiday card one year. The parody was hilarious but failed to garner the attention of the original.
Sometimes it’s sad. Lindsay Lohan attempted to garner what she hoped would be positive attention by posting pictures of herself in a sexy jumpsuit. Crickets. Us Magazine was pretty much the only ones who paid attention, and that took prodding.
Actually generating significant traffic over a single event, such as a picture, takes a lot of coordination and cross-media effort. Having a publicist certainly helps, as does the involvement of people who already have large followings on multiple social media sites. Having a fan base perpetually anxious for any news or images is critical. Those in the entertainment field have a greater chance of getting that level of attention because they already have people watching what they’re doing. Get that person naked and the picture is going viral. Quickly.
Where Our Interests Lie
When we look at what actually gets the most focused attention, we get a pretty good picture of where our true interests lie. Whether we are old or young, rich or poor, male or female, the same things still get our attention. While that doesn’t necessarily mean that we approve of the content, we still look. We feel compelled to check out what everyone else is watching. Furthermore, we like to share. Not only do we want to share the content, we want to share our opinion of the content.
More than anything, we like content to which we can relate. We want to comment. We want to take something popular and turn that attention to ourselves. So, the more people who are looking and commenting themselves, the more likely we are to do the same. We have to get our two cents in on the topic to feel significant.
Because we are so shallow, we are easily played. Politicians struggle to get our attention on critical issues while entertainers have every little sneeze go viral. As much as we like to think that we are in control of our viewing habits, publicists and content producers know that the right boobs and/or butt can generate millions of views within a matter of minutes. That’s why designers like having celebrities on the front row at fashion shows. Our attention is up for grabs and easily manipulated.
This article has no call to action. My intention is not to get you to change your habits. Breaking the Internet is beyond any one person’s control. Besides, don’t think I’ve not noticed that I get more views when I post pictures with some level of nudity. If that’s what I have to do to get your attention, I’m okay with that.
While I’m not out to break the Internet, I do like knowing that someone is paying attention. We all like knowing that someone is paying attention. We want to know that our existence matters and that our efforts to do things, whatever they may be, are noticed. By someone. Somewhere.
When something “breaks the Internet,” we have an opportunity to feel like we are part of society. We talk. We share. We disagree. We, too, are noticed. For a while.
And because we need the attention, we can’t wait for whatever breaks the Internet the next time.