“Virality,” I think, does not foreclose context, as the mantra states. What it DOES do is foreclose the possibility of generalizing the context in which a viral video is going to be viewed. I think ignoring this distinction leads us to ignore questions of reception and shared understanding which matter deeply to creating communities on the internet.
Take one of the viral videos of late: Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls
Over 12 people shared it in my Facebook newsfeed (which is a lot!). Why did it resonate like that? Because it spoke to a particular understanding of the role of microaggressions in racism that everyone who shared it (though not everyone in the world who viewed it) shared.
And the people sharing that understanding (not just my facebook friends!) took it further to engage those topics in other shared spaces, e.g.:
(In that link, Latoya Peterson considers, among other things, the implications of the different contexts of production and reception of the “Shit People Say” meme)
These are internet spaces that have a shared investment in black feminist consciousness. Of course, not everyone reacted that way, including a bunch of white feminists (can’t find the link, sorry!). And this differential reaction speaks to pre-existing cleavages in these groups both online and off.
So: what is the role of understanding different contexts of reception in this project?
Found the link I couldn’t find before re: white feminist/white people generally reacting to the video!: http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2012/01/not-everyones-laughing-at-shit-white-girls-say-to-black-girls/
(emailed to me by Christine Slaughter during my talk at Yale)