The ghosts of the internet

If there is one certainty in life, it is that eventually, everything will end. This is also true for anything on the internet. From viral videos, games, challenges to entire websites. As fast as something seems to become popular, as fast it seems to die out. This vicious cycle of “Viralness” has claimed many victims and does not seem to be stopping anytime soon. When something stops being viral, it is quickly described as being dead and gone, but is it really? On the internet where nothing seems to go away, can a trend, a website, a viral moment truly die? After all the physical, tangible thing that went so viral is probably still there, stored away in some archive. Still accessible for anyone who wants it. And even if the original viral thing is not accessible anymore, the memory of it, the inevitable copies of it, are probably still there.

The afterlife

In the book ‘Going Viral’, the supposed death of anything on the internet is put into two categories. First, you have “Decay”. In short, decay is when the interest in the thing is declining. A slowing in new views, or a decline in Google searches. There are many reasons for this to happen, maybe there was a big controversy. Maybe the thing was a bit of a letdown and didn’t really deserve all that hype or maybe people just moved on (Nahon & Hemsley, 2013). While we might try to convince ourselves that we can surely multitask, in reality, it is quite impossible. People’s attention is a finite source and at a certain point, there is just none left. This resource is what drives content and sites on the internet, something is only as popular as people want it to be. And when that resource is gone, so is the thing that it once fueled (Nahon & Hemsley, 2013).

The second category or destination as described in ‘Going Viral’ is called the ”afterlife”. This is the place where things on the internet eventually arrive, a place to be forgotten. While all things come to rest here, not everything is as dead as the other. Some sites, content, moments are better described as ghosts, still haunting the hallways of the Internet. Just waiting to be reencountered by some poor/lucky soul (Nahon & Hemsley, 2013).

In ‘Going Viral’, they describe it as having a “stickiness”. The bigger something becomes the more it is shared and the bigger the chance that it will be archived (Nahon & Hemsley, 2013). Think of any big viral hit of the last few years, while it might not have the same impact on you now, you still remember it. It may have been a fun game, that you eventually stopped playing or a song that you just hated. Whatever it might have been and whatever your opinion of it is, you still remember it. It still sticks to you.

“since the beginning of time, for us humans, forgetting has been the norm and remembering the exception. Because of digital technology and global networks, however, this balance has shifted. Today with the help of widespread technology, forgetting has become the exception, and remembering the default”2.

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger in Delete, The virtue of forgetting in the digital age.


Mayer-Schönberger, V. (2011). Delete, The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. Princeton University Press.

Nahon, K., & Hemsley, J. (2013). Afterlife. In Going Viral (1ste editie, pp. 124–142). polity press.