Behind the scenes of a viral video
Yahoo Canada’s Jenny Sung explains how her video of a campaign volunteer comparing Doug Ford’s mayoral race loss to ISIS attacks went viral.
By Jenny Sung
Recently, a video I posted on Instagram and Vimeo went viral. In it, a campaign volunteer named Penny Morrison is seen crying, upset about Doug Ford’s loss to John Tory in the Toronto mayoral election. “It’s worse than ISIS coming to Toronto!,” she exclaimed. “That’s how bad it is. It couldn’t be worse!”
The Vimeo clip, at the time of publishing, has now been viewed over 43,000 times, and the Instagram snippet has hundreds of likes and comments. It even made it onto Jimmy Kimmel Live the night after the election.
As a video producer and programmer for Yahoo Canada, it’s my job to find videos with viral potential and put them on our front page. I never thought one of my own videos would go viral. So how did I manage to capture this moment?
Armed with just an iPhone, I was sent to the Ford election party to create original visual assets to be posted on social media, which the news desk would pull in through Storify. Early in the evening, I spoke to Morrison and a couple of other volunteers who were all incredibly optimistic.
Ford campaign volunteers tell me that this will be a landslide victory. "John Tory will be annihilated!" pic.twitter.com/yAXRLPc5W9
— Jenny Sung (@jennynotjen) October 27, 2014
Rob Ford appears on screen to cheers & tears. "We're praying for you!" "There is a God!" "Be healed in Jesus' name!" pic.twitter.com/dKD0UlDe8j
— Jenny Sung (@jennynotjen) October 28, 2014
— Jenny Sung (@jennynotjen) October 28, 2014
In the flurry of angry Ford Nation supporters claiming injustice and election fraud, my attention was drawn elsewhere. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Morrison sitting at a table to the side, crying. I hadn’t expected to see such fear and sorrow at an election party, so I wanted to know why she was so upset. I approached her with my iPhone poised and asked her to tell me what was troubling her.
Perhaps she felt comfortable with me because I had spoken to her earlier in the evening, or maybe it was because I wasn’t holding a TV camera, but she started to go off. She claimed that we would all be “living in hell” in a city led by Tory and was worried that she would lose her home to either Tory’s high taxes or his SmartTrack plan.
Then she dropped the infamous line comparing Tory to ISIS. I was a bit stunned—not only by her comparison, but by her palpable grief. Once I stopped filming, I told her I was sorry she was so upset and that I really hoped she wouldn’t lose her house.
I was surprised none of the other reporters there was recording, but it seemed that different outlets approached her in succession, and I just happened to be the only one rolling at the time.
I tried to post the video on Instagram right away, but the venue’s wifi was overloaded. So the reporter I was with tweeted out the line, which garnered a lot of reaction on its own. Once I was home and the news desk had closed, I uploaded the video using the hashtag #voteTO and emailed the link to the news desk, so that they could use it in a story the next day if they wished.
Although it seems silly now, I was worried that Yahoo could get into a lot of hot water for publishing the video due to the nature of the comments, so I opted to share it with my relatively small pool of Instagram followers instead and wait until the morning to see if the news editors wanted to use the video.
The next morning, I woke up to a ton of reaction on Instagram from strangers, which I wasn’t expecting. My coworker wrote a quick blog about the entire scene at the Ford party and included the famous quote. A news editor eventually asked me to upload the video onto YouTube because Yahoo’s security restrictions didn’t allow for Instagram embeds. I opted for Vimeo instead because I was afraid the video would spill into the gutter that YouTube tends to breed, and I didn’t want ads running before a clip of someone who was genuinely sad and scared.
Meanwhile, various well-known media personalities got a hold of my clip and tweeted it out. Huffington Post Canada put it on its front page. A reddit user posted it under r/toronto. Various local radio stations shared it on social media, and Yahoo posted the full Vimeo clip. Later, a friend pointed out that Jimmy Kimmel played the clip on his show.
I won’t lie—I’m relieved the wave has passed on the video’s popularity. It felt uncomfortable to gain notoriety at the expense of Morrison’s emotions. However, I know that I just captured a moment in reality, and sometimes reality can be absurd.