Two months ago a video of a sea lion playing with my son, who has an Autism Spectrum Disorder, unexpectedly got a lot of attention. An earlier post talks more about the story behind the video, as well as why I decided to make a personal moment public. Basically I thought it was cute and my friends and family might like to see it, other special needs parents might be able to relate, and it was an opportunity to spread Autism Awareness. What I didn’t expect was that within a week’s time it would have over 90,000 views and be spread all over the world (no, not one of those “mega-viral” 1 million views kind of videos, but still a surprising reach). Before I posted it to the internet I was convinced I had thought things through, but the results still caught me off guard. I found the whole unexpected process incredibly exciting and incredibly exhausting. I recently agreed to do a television interview about the experience, and you can watch it here on the website for ABC affiliate WRIC Channel 8. They called it, “Going Viral: What You Need to Know Before Posting Online”. I did the interview and wrote this post in the hopes that by sharing some of our crazy journey it might help other people in a similar situation. I don’t have any advice for you if you have a video that you hope to turn mega viral and use to make lots of money. But if you have a story you want to tell or content to share, and want some tips on how to protect your rights and your family in the process, then keep reading. Yes, when this all started I thought it was possible we might make a bit of money, but that was not my main goal. I just wanted to share a cute video of my cute kid and thought it might also help people.
First, and very important, ask yourself if the benefits from what you post will outweigh the risks. What do you hope to get out of the experience, and is it worth what you will give up? If you just want your 15 minutes of fame you need to be prepared for the loss of privacy and the scrutiny that comes with it. All that attention from strangers feels good for about a whole day, but then in a flash you are yesterday’s news. If you are doing it to make money, let me just say you probably won’t make very much. If you are allowing yourself or your story to enter the public eye because you have something important to share, or you want to help people, then I applaud you. I have a new-found respect for anyone willing to make a public stand for what they believe in, because it is a scary thing to make yourself vulnerable to the prying eyes, and possible criticism, of strangers. That part was what scared me the most. Before I posted the video of my son I thought it through as carefully as I could. It’s not a video that makes fun of him or something he will be embarrassed by when he gets older. I asked his permission before sharing it, as well as before I shared that he has an Autism Spectrum Disorder, because it was important to me that I have his consent. I made sure that throughout the whole process my son was treated with respect. Even though I thought that it could be an opportunity help spread awareness and acceptance, I tried to make sure it didn’t sensationalize Autism or exploit my son. I also asked myself if I was compromising the safety of my family by allowing our video to been seen publicly. Is the loss of your privacy worth it? I felt safer about releasing our video because my son’s face was obscured in shadow. At the time we had not decided if we wanted to publicly release his image. I should have been more emotionally prepared for the fact that even if I didn’t release his image, it would get out there (more on that in a bit).