Why the Ellen Oscar selfie went viral

In less than an hour, a snapshot sent by Ellen DeGeneres during the Oscars became the most retweeted message in the history of Twitter.

The selfie was packed with Hollywood stars, from Jennifer Lawrence to Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt to Kevin Spacey.

Within an hour, the tweet had surpassed a million retweets. One of those was my own retweet of the photo.

The tweet far outstripped the previous record holder. That was the “Four more years” tweet from Barack Obama’s account in November 2012. It soon went past two million retweets.

There are three main reasons why Ellen’s tweet resonated so far and wide, so fast.

  1. The public was primed for the big event in the entertainment calendar. Everyone knew the Academy Awards were coming, even if some may not have been that interested in them. Moreover, selfie was named word of the year for 2013 so the idea of taking pictures of yourself had social currency. The groundwork was already there for the message to catch on socially.
  2. The message captured a moment of fun at what can be a long and at times turgid awards ceremony. It evoked a feeling of joy which is a key emotion in driving the material that is shared online. Things that make us feel happy are far more likely to be shared than those that make us sad as we are conscious of how others will react to our retweets.
  3. Retweeting the selfie was an act of self-representation. It offered a way to participate in the Oscars in a knowing way, poking fun at the staid nature of awards ceremonies. Our social media activities are ways of crafting a persona online.

As I hit publish, Ellen’s tweet was at 2,801,769 retweets and 1,462,210 favourites.

1 Comment

  • Good points as always, Alfred. I think you also have to add the fact that Ellen told the audience to retweet it, encouraging them to break the record. These days, she has an Oprah-like power over her fans; they are dedicated and active. With one of the largest Oscar audiences in a decade, she had the perfect setting to make the record happen.

    The photo also showed that celebrities — even Oscar powerhouses like Meryl Streep — are basically like the rest of us mortals. We could relate to that moment. It was more like sharing a photo of friends than adoring celebrities.

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