When asked whether the Arab Spring revolutions were a success or not, Khalid Albaih replied that “revolutions take time.” A few months, or even a few years, is not long enough to gauge the success of a movement. Albaih also discussed his experience with going viral, something that is much more fleeting. Virality is an important part of a modern revolution for spreading images and ideas in the era of social media. Viral images help fuel revolutions, but they are soon forgotten. How fleeting is virality if the themes and ideas expressed in viral social media posts live on in the revolutionary process? The idea of a continuing revolution encompasses the ongoing themes that are explained in temporary, instantly forgotten people and images. Virality and revolution go hand in hand because each large-scale event is made up of smaller scale happenings.
A viral image or moment is seen by many people in a short span of time. A social media post can be easily shared to exponentially expand its reach. This viral potential is a marked departure from pre-social media methods of sharing, when messages took longer to reach fewer people. Notices of all sorts, from meeting times and locations for revolutionary activities to works of protest art like Albaih’s can spread rapidly, but that does not mean that they are remembered in the long term.
Instead of news spreading slowly but being remembered due to the relative lack of it in the past, today’s news is so global that one cannot possibly remember everything they see on a daily basis. While many people may see a viral phenomenon, only a few will leave room in their crammed minds for it to stick. Creators must produce more and more to remain relevant.
The revolutionary implications of virality are many. Although individual viral moments may be forgotten, the conglomeration of a constant stream of viral revolutionary images will have an impact. Moments that are viral are etched into the consciousness of the people who are witnesses to those events and images even if they are not immediately recalled. Albaih’s daily production is part of what makes him an influential artist.
Viral images can impact the course of a revolution because they cause strong emotion. Emotion is the driver behind something going viral, whether people share it because it is happy, sad, funny, scary, exciting, or some combination thereof. Capturing the fluctuation of those emotions and nudging them into actions are the ways to fuel a revolution. The build up of multiple tiny (or even medium sized or large) moments of virality shape the culture of a revolution minute by minute, hour by hour, and day by day. Mastering the art of producing viral content and staying relevant in any movement is a special skill.