The Top 5 Viral Stories on Social of 2015: #TheDress, Left Shark and More

Which stories captured the attention of social media to spawn memes and internet stardom?

Every year, there are a few big stories that rock our world and the Internet help spread those stories far and wide. What’s interesting is that the internet helps to spread the news, but mainstream news also helps to spread funny, heartwarming and cute stories from the internet as well, and these are often the stories that go viral.

According to DOSE CEO Emerson Spartz, there are two ways to look at virality. The first way is that some stories are spread from person-to-person through word-of-mouth. However, he said that the biggest viral stories usually catch the attention of mainstream media, and media coverage drives the virality of the story, regardless of its actual online popularity.

Spartz also makes the distinction between news stories and viral stories on the internet. Many of us recall the stories of Rachel Dolezal, Cecil the Lion and Charlie Hebdo — all of which were discussed widely and at length online. But Spartz says viral stories are generally more entertaining and novel. While other factors play into whether or not a story will go viral, Spartz defines virality based one key criteria: It has to strike an emotional cord. 

Spartz told SocialTimes:

The more emotion someone feels, the more likely the are to share. Some emotions work better than others. For example, positive emotions tend to inspire more shares than negative emotions. The notable exception to that being anger.

So what did Spartz rank as the most viral stories of 2015? Here are the top five:

1. The Dress

#TheDress struck a cord across social platforms from Twitter to Tumblr and earned it a spot as one of the most influencial moments on Twitter and top billing for the most viral story of the year. Spartz attributes the virality of #TheDress to its intrigue and mystique. It challenged the way we saw reality, so people were a compelled to share and find out what others were seeing.

Within a few days of posting to Tumblr, The Dress post had more than 73 million views. According to Facebook, 58 percent of people who posted about the dress said white/gold, 42 percent were in the black/blue camp.

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2. Left Shark

The Left Shark from Katy Perry’s Super Bowl halftime show, had the perfect recipe for virality: the combination of entertaining, cute, and dumb. According to Spartz, Left Shark was “so incredibly derpy” that it was thrust into internet fame. Left Shark became so popular it spawned costumes and pajamas and even Left Shark trash cans at Coachella.

According to CBC, there were more than 160,000 tweets about Left Shark in the two days after the Super Bowl. Vocativ points out that on Super Bowl Sunday, #LeftShark was more popular than #Patriots or #KatyPerry.

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3. Pizza Rat
According to Spartz, Pizza Rat is a perfect example of a story most people have heard of but didn’t actually see. Indeed, the video of the New York City rat caught on video wrestling a slice of pizza down a few stairs may have popped up in your social media news feed, but it was the news media that pushed Pizza Rat into the mainstream visibility. While Spartz noted that the video views don’t add up to much in the scope of internet popularity, just knowing about Pizza Rat gave people the sense of being “internet cultured.”

The Washington Post reported that, at its peak (Sept. 21, 4 p.m. ET), there were more than 400 #PizzaRat tweets per minute.

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4. Alex From Target:  It seems silly that a picture of a good looking kid working as a Target cashier would go viral, but it did. After his photo was tweeted, the teen Twitterverse went mad. So much so that Alex “From Target” Lee decided to start his own Twitter account which quickly amassed 300,000 followers. Within less than a week of his photo being Tweeted, he was featured on CNN and the hashtag #alexfromtwitter was used more than 800,000 times leading up to an appearance on Ellen. And thus another young internet sensation was born. 

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5. Arizona Llama Escape: In general, people are intrigued by police chases because they’re so rare and, “anything can happen,” according to Spartz. When two llamas escaped from their pen at a retirement community, captured the attention of local media and went viral on social media. Llamas are already part of funny internet culture, Spartz said, so the Arizona llama escape was destined to go viral.

Top image courtesy of BuzzFeed on YouTube.