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Internet's lure of likes, shares and viral humour

In response to a Singapore Army Facebook post that showed a stony-faced recruit with his family, the SCDF posted a photo of another recruit (above) and his family smiling happily. Facebook user Stephen Roseman says his satirical post, which features
A New Year's Eve photo showing three police officers in Manchester, England, detaining a man, and another man lying on the road with his outstretched arm clinging on to a mug of beer, has been likened to a beautiful painting. One Twitter user says the image is popular because it complies with the so-called golden ratio rule.PHOTO: ROLAND HUGHES/JOEL GOODMAN
In response to a Singapore Army Facebook post that showed a stony-faced recruit with his family, the SCDF posted a photo of another recruit (above) and his family smiling happily. Facebook user Stephen Roseman says his satirical post, which features
Facebook user Stephen Roseman says his satirical post, which features "a badly burned and disfigured dog", is meant to expose the ease with which people can be tricked online. PHOTO: STEPHEN ROSEMAN/ FACEBOOK
In response to a Singapore Army Facebook post that showed a stony-faced recruit with his family, the SCDF posted a photo of another recruit (above) and his family smiling happily. Facebook user Stephen Roseman says his satirical post, which features
In response to a Singapore Army Facebook post that showed a stony-faced recruit with his family, the SCDF posted a photo of another recruit (above) and his family smiling happily. PHOTO: SCDF/FACEBOOK

Online fame linked to likes, shares and if posts go viral but watch out for trickery

THE POWER OF A LIKE

Does a Facebook like possess the same divine power as a prayer?

It is a strange notion, but one that seems very much alive and well, as clearly illustrated by a recent photo of a dog with a slice of ham on its face.

Facebook user Stephen Roseman, who uploaded the photo over the Christmas season, included this tragic caption: "This poor dog was badly burned and disfigured trying to save his family from a house fire."

"One like = one prayer. One share = 10 prayers," it read.

Most netizens who left comments saw through the obviously satirical post, but there was a sizeable number of people who believed it. "Let's share and pray for this brave dog," said one. "Help this dog. It saved a family!" said another.

One overly concerned user even started a crowdfunding campaign to save the dog. The campaign was taken down shortly after, but not before several people pledged hundreds of dollars to save "hamdog". As of Jan 9, the post had garnered 77,000 likes and 127,000 shares. That works out to at least 1.3 million prayers, in case you were wondering.

The bizarre concept that one like is tantamount to a prayer has been around for years, typically popping up after tragedies and disasters.

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Detractors say users who post them are just hungry for attention and are exploiting images - chock-full of heartbreaking photos of children or animals - for their own ends, whatever that may be. It also encourages "slacktivism", which is the practice of supporting an issue or cause to "feel good" without putting in any effort or having any physical or practical effect.

Other such activities include signing Internet petitions, copying and pasting social media statuses or messages, and joining a community without contributing any effort.

Mr Roseman, who said the post was meant to expose the ease with which people could be tricked online, started receiving death threats by the third day. But he appears undaunted. "Your prayers worked miracles. The dog has made a full recovery," he said later.

THE ANATOMY OF A VIRAL POST

The secret to making a photo go viral, it seems, is to have good timing and, well, an aesthetically pleasing photo.

At least that is according to the journalist who helped spread a photo of the aftermath of New Year's Eve in Manchester. England.

The photo, which depicts three police officers detaining a man on one side and a man lying on the road with his outstretched arm clinging on to a mug of beer on the other, was taken by photographer Joel Goodman.

It was buried deep within a gallery posted by the Manchester Evening News before getting picked up and tweeted by BBC senior producer Roland Hughes.

The post has been retweeted 29,500 times and liked close to 31,000 times.

Many users devoted a portion of their time altering it, adapting it to the style of famous artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Michelangelo.

One Twitter user said the image was popular because it complied with the so-called golden ratio rule.

The post was later picked up by celebrities and even television news networks.

Mr Hughes said he was shocked at the response. "We are also very lucky - that the photo trended for a positive reason. I hate to think what happens to those who find themselves on the end of Twitter hype for all the wrong reasons."

THE STONY-FACED RECRUIT

A photo of a stony-faced recruit and his cheerful family taken during a direct enlistment exercise had been making the rounds last week.

It was posted last Tuesday on the Facebook page of the Singapore Army's Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC).

The recruit's expressionless face clearly struck a strong chord among many local netizens, who easily identified with him.

"The face says it all," said one user. "At least he is being honest about his expression in here," said another.

BMTC later took down the image, but it had already gone viral. One image, reproduced by local humour site SGAG, had close to 10,000 likes.

In response, the Singapore Civil Defence Force posted a photo of another recruit and his family smiling happily shortly after.

"In SCDF, our recruits look forward to being part of the Life Saving Force. #wearbluenotfeelblue," read the photo caption.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 10, 2016, with the headline 'Internet's lure of likes, shares and viral humour'. Print Edition | Subscribe