As everyone in Brussels and the UK by now certainly must be aware, a YouTube video of  Dan Hannan MEP slating/skewing/roasting/panning Gordon Brown, who was present at the time and simply had to sit, listen and endure, has become an internet phenomenon, with over two million views to date.

A little late to be writing about this perhaps, seeing as the event in question took place a couple of weeks ago. However, I’ve just read yet another post or article by a political commentator claiming that the success of the video must imply that common folk, greatly perturbed by the current state of affairs in the UK, have watched the video in droves because it sums up their anger and frustration with the current administration, and that the mainstream media has not reported on it because they are out of touch with what people are feeling at this time.

I disagree somewhat. I’m sure lots of people think Hannan is right. And I’m sure lots of people are angry. That does not explain 2 million hits though! What does? In my view, mainly people’s thirst for sensationalism and the nature of viral. An extremely articulate young man laying into the PM for three minutes as he just sits there makes truly awesome and unique viewing. The manner in which it was delivered had something Hollywood’esque about it: it seemed almost too scripted to be true. And that’s why most people wanted to share the link, I’m sure: it’s a sensational story which does what a good tabloid does i.e. it entertains, surprises and opines.

Maybe I’m wrong, but do you think most people’s thinking when they sent the link to friends was (something along the lines of): “gosh I’m fuming, Brown and his cronies have really sent us down s*** creak without a paddle, I’m sure Rob and Jane will agree wholeheartedly so I’m sending this link to them.” I think it’s more likely their thinking was: “look at Gordon squirm as the posh young whippersnapper lays into him! Ha that’s great viewing! I’m going to send it to Rob and Jane, I’m sure they’ll think it’s fun.”

As for serious media not reporting on it: well why should they? To them, the story is “politician lays into Brown” which happens hundreds of times every day. So what? To do their job properly they should report on the content of a number of Hannan’s fine speeches, as well as the scores of other bright young politicians expressing a view on either side of the political divide. Simply feeding the public’s hunger for sensationalism by reporting on Hannan’s speech and little else should be left to the Daily Mails of this world. And although I’m sure Hannan’s pleased with the exposure this has given him, I’m sure he is also concerned that he might become “typecast” as the politician who slated Brown, while the numerous very well articulated views on other matters expressed in his blog and elsewhere take second fiddle.

As for the nature of viral, I think it’s important to take a step back and acknowledge what makes things go viral i.e. what makes people decide to forward links to people they know. Frankly, not much. It’s not as if it’s an arduous process: see something interesting or fun, hey presto, and you’ve sent it to a hundred friends. It does not mean that you wholeheartedly endorse it or think it’s earth-shatteringly interesting. Hence the 10 million plus views of dancing hamsters and the like and why 2 million hits doesn’t mean you’ve got 2 million people who think Hannan should be made PM while Brown should be lynched.

By no means am I denying that 2 million hits shows Hannan has hit a raw nerve; that some people have watched the speech and agreed wholeheartedly with it. However, at the same time I think it’s important to not over-emphasise the two million hits or what it siginifies in the broader political debate. Instead why not praise Hannan for writing thought-provoking posts showcasing real expertise, strong views and a fair share of brilliance every day in his blog (although I agree with about 0.1% of what he says?) That’s what shifts opinions and mobilises people in the long-run, not a one-off viral sensation.