Media viruses spread rapidly if they provoke our interest, and their success is dependent on the particular strengths and weaknesses of the host organism, popular culture. The more provocative an image or icon–like a video-taped police beating or a new rap lyric, for that matter–the further and faster it will travel through the datasphere.
Rushkoff goes on to explain why people are susceptible to a media virus:
Our interest and fascination is a sign that we are not culturally “immune” to the new virus. The success of the memes within the virus, on the other hand, depends on our legal, moral, and social resiliency. If our own attitudes about racism, the power of police, drug abuse, and free speech are ambiguous–meaning our societal “code” is faulty–then the invading memes within the media virus will have little trouble infiltrating our own confused command structure.
It is interesting that apparently a Massachusetts state representative has introduced a bill that requires children (under 16) to get parental permission before joining up with a buzz campaign. A ‘buzz campaign’ is one where a buzz about a product or service is created through word-of-mouth. People are employed to spread this word-of-mouth through employment in companies like BzzAgent.
So on the one hand we have a fun competition to create a ‘meme’ that is spread through the datasphere (for free) and on the other we have legislation coming down on children earning money from spreading news…
Rushkoff, D. (1994) Media virus!: hidden agendas in popular culture, Ballantine Books, New York.