Of all the publications and site that covered my infamous tea & consent blog, the weirdest one was the Daily Mail. I didn’t actually end up with a huge amount of traffic coming directly from it; but then it came out several months after it had first gone viral (viralled?) and perhaps by that point everyone was thoroughly sick of it (because it’s a virus. Ho Ho Ho.) I was actually at work when someone emailed me the link, and as I scrolled I felt a weird sense of euphoria mixed with nausea. Voice in my head: don’t read the comments. I mean, it was amazing – something I wrote has been picked up by one of the most read papers in the country! But, on the other hand, it’s the Daily Mail. I really dislike the Daily Mail don’t read the comments. As a non-straight woman, product of a single mother, left wing, cycling feminist – I am not exactly the sort of person who enjoys, or is enjoyed by, the Daily Mail don’t read the comments. I am the sort of person the Daily Mail hates. I would have thought were I ever to end up in the Daily Mail it would not be for anything good.
I was fine until I scrolled don’t read the comments about two thirds of the way down to suddenly be confronted with my BIG FACE and realised that they’d been over to my Twitter and used a picture I’d posted a few weeks before, with the tagline “why yes, I am a massive dork”. oh god don’t read the comments Even after the experience of going viral I still clearly hadn’t taken on board the sage advice, “be careful what you share publically”. Did you know that posting things on Twitter publicly counts technically as publishing it, and anyone can use your picture as long as they credit Twitter? I kind of did know it, in theory, but it had never occurred to me that I’d ever do anything interesting enough for anyone to actually do it to me. Consider that a lesson learned. Although, to be fair, it wasn’t a bad picture and I *am* a massive dork.
I read the comments.
That same day I received an email from Mummy DinoPirate with the subject “the apple doesn’t fall very far”. She had thoroughly enjoyed living vicariously through me during the period of my blog going viral, messaging me every day for an update on my visitor and view numbers, collecting and tallying all the publications that shared it, making a list of all the languages it was translated into, and generally being all proud. It wasn’t until the Daily Mail article however that she remembered her brief brush with fame, and sent me the story of when she ‘went viral’ before such a thing even existed. Yes, young padawans, there was a time when there were no home computers or email or internet, and computers were basically the size of dinosaurs. Although, interestingly, plenty of female computer pioneers.
And so, in MummyDinoPirate’s own words, this is what it was like to ‘go viral’ in 1964. And perhaps a glimpse into where my writing style comes from.
“I don’t know if I ever told you this story – but with the Daily Mail thing today, it brought it back and I was struck by the parallels and also how much ‘going viral’ has changed.
When I was 13, at boarding school, I was incensed by reports in the paper (which I perceived as) attacking young people – something like “YOUNG PEOPLE HAVE NO RESPECT – LOOK HOW THEY VANDALISE PHONE BOXES” was the trigger for me. (This was pre-Dr Who days, I am sure the advent of Dr Who brought about a great change in young people’s attitudes to phone boxes)
I was all about helping old ladies and doing voluntary service in the local mental hospital. Ok, ok, it was to get out having to play sport on Saturday, not really altruistic, but I still felt outraged by this generalisation of young people.
So I wrote a letter – I’d love to say it was the Daily Fail, to give our stories greater congruency, but alas, I fear it was the Daily Express. (Just as bad). The letter was, obviously, along the lines of #notallyoungpeople but was penned (literally, as this was the days before computers) before the advent of such a useful tool as a hashtag.
The letter was published.
I was so excited and happy to see my name in print and my complaint made public in the National Press.
UNTIL the next day. In those days a postage stamp cost 3d (old money) and a letter posted today would arrive at its destination the next day. I was called to the Headmistress’s Office, where she was standing, with a face of thunder, surrounded by five Royal Mail sacks, stuffed with letters. All in response to this bloody letter I had written.
When we talk now about “don’t read the comments” I am taken vividly back to that time when I lost the next six months of my life. She made me not only read all of those letters, but forced me to reply to each and every one. And may I remind you, this was not only pre-computer, but also pre-biro, and yes, even pre-fountain pen so I am actually surprised that my fingers do not still bear the stains of Quink from my ink-pen which I had to dip into the inkwell in my desk.
As far as I remember, the letters were mostly very sweet / sympathetic / encouraging – they felt sad that a 13 year old felt moved to have to stand her ground against an evil world! Some were obviously patronising. I think there were only a very few negative ones, but I can’t remember much about them – along the lines of young people should be seen and not heard and shouldn’t be given space in the newspaper. I think it had such a strong reaction because generally speaking in those days children did not write letters to newspapers.
I do remember that the next day at the top of the Letters column the headline, in bold, was “Cheer up Amanda” and there were about four letters in response. I was allowed to see that, but after that the school banned me from reading the newspaper – they didn’t want to encourage press interest in the school, so they didn’t want me to engage further!
Going viral in 1964 was a very different experience from yours.”