A few months ago, when the Anthony Weiner Twitter scandal rocked the media, I did what most people would do: I set up a Tumblr encouraging Weiner supporters to send their own crotch shots to create an online community of anonymous exhibitionists. The only guidelines for photo submission was it be of your crotch, no indentifying features, and a sign that said, “I am Anthony Weiner.”
I can’t claim originality for the “themed-photo community in support of a politically polarizing figure” idea. The concept was clearly inspired by “I am Bradley Manning,” a Tumblr project that really took off.
But the “I am Anthony Weiner” project was a complete failure. Friends who had pledged to send in photos never materialized on their promises, and the collective Internet perviness was seemingly overpowered by collective Internet laziness.
Now I’m not an expert on social movements or viral marketing, but I have a general idea why things get popular and why things fail. “I am Anthony Weiner” was not a terrible idea. I had several photos in the first day, and about 20 people said it was a great idea and would submit if only it had more photos. Others flat out made excuses, momentarily forgetting they owned smartphones, possibly embarrassed about letting me see their scantily clad junkaroo.
My biggest surprise is that an ad on Craiglist garnered nada. Craiglist? C’mon. I thought that was the destination to go for for voyeuristic half-naked pictures. But I guess the type of person to pic-whore themselves out on Craiglists isn’t really the type to care about supporting politicians.
The initial hump (pun intended) is always what makes or breaks a viral social movement. People tend to have trepidation about joining something unless everyone else is more or less there. I gave up on the Tumblr about a week before Anthony Weiner declared that he had lied about the hacking and was leaving office, the final nail in the coffin for the project.
But right after I quit, I got an e-mail of camaraderie from another website: Weiner Support. Their site operated on basically the same idea as mine and had about the same number of submissions. They could afford a domain name and probably knew a thing or two about web design. Their biggest advantage over my Tumblr (disadvantage being lacking the reblog function) was having an on-site picture uploader.
By the time I had logged into the e-mail address and found them, Anthony had already resigned, and Weiner Support’s last picture was that of a kitten. When you’re going against your own theme by posting pictures of kittens, you know you’re doomed.
Maybe one day I’ll create another Tumblr in support of a politician rocked with scandal. But if I do, I will make sure to have a vast network of aggressive like-minded minions, and hopefully the politician won’t be lying.
Here’s an excellent example of how viral movements get started: