It’s week on Mashable. Join us as we take stock of the viral economy and investigate how the internet morphed from a fun free-for-all to a bleak hellscape we just can’t quit.
If we’ve learned anything from the and of the internet, or the of expired memes collecting virtual dust in an online database, it’s that viral fame is often fleeting. But every now and then, a weird little subculture starts trending and doesn’t stop.
Over the past decade or so, attention from the outside world has caused internet subcultures once considered niche — like the furry fandom and the Neopets and DIY communities — to transition from underground to mainstream. But when a community goes viral, what happens next?
We talked to prominent members from these three resilient online communities to learn what it was like to be launched into the spotlight and how viral fame changed their subcultures.
First up? The furries, a fandom comprised of people who’ve taken an interest in anthropomorphic animals, or animals with human characteristics and personalities. Members of the community either identify with existing anthropomorphized characters or create personal alter egos for themselves, known as “fursonas.” Since art and visual expression play a large role, many furry enthusiasts also have some form of costume or a mascot-like fursuit to help depict their fursonas.
Though the fandom is in the early 1980s, furry influences like Kimba the White Lion and Fritz the Cat appeared in pop culture decades earlier, so the true start remains unknown. But after years of holding conventions and growing an online community, furries began getting more mainstream attention in 2010. Much to the dismay of the community, however, the coverage wasn’t always kind, and in many cases, drastically misrepresented the majority of the fandom.
The fortitude of furry Twitter
Over the years, the furry community has periodically trended as a result of negative news about everything from a after people learned he was a furry to a group of furries who showed . But the — which many members claim is a small or even nonexistent part of the subculture — has perhaps been the most controversial focal point for the outside world.
Furries were often spotlighted as fetishists or misunderstood for their unconventional interests, while the community was trying to get its truth across, the narrow coverage took a toll on members.
Though furries congregate on many online platforms — from popular sites like YouTube and Instagram to more tailored spaces like , , and — Twitter remains the hub.
“Most of the furry fandom news is spread through Twitter — whether it’s convention information, drama, fandom news, someone’s new suit, art, or videos — it is all found there,” , a 24-year-old furry living in Pittsburgh said.
Vix found out about furries in middle school, and while she was initially hesitant to join due to negative things she’d heard about the community, after getting two fursuits in 2011 she established her main fursonas: a calico cat-deer named Vix and a blue arctic fox named Rika, which has many alternate versions (including a male goat and a demonic jester).
Since in 2014, Vix has seen it grow drastically, but remembers key moments of viral attention that really affected the community as a whole.
In December 2014, for instance, a took place during a Midwest FurFest convention in Chicago, prompting a hotel evacuation and landing 19 people in the hospital. Though most coverage of the tragedy was straight, many members of the furry community were distressed by the on-air actions of MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski. When Brzezinski first learned about furries while reporting the convention news, she burst into uncontrollable laughter and physically ran off set to compose herself.
“This made the community extremely upset due to the fact that many people had to be rushed to the hospital and it was in no way a laughing matter,” Vix said.
Mark Smith, a who was in the Army at the time of the attack, also recalled how devastating it was. “Ultimately we all really do get upset,” he said, noting that since he joined the community in 2009, adopting the fursona of a white and blue husky. He’s now thankful to see a growing sense of acceptance and positivity from the outside world.
‘When it hit media coverage there was outrage in the community and many were upset over the negative impact.’
Another memorable setback came after the Tony the Tiger incident of 2015, in which several furries towards the official Tony the Tiger Twitter account. Vix admits the trend “left furry Twitter split,” saying some thought it was “harmless and hilarious,” but many saw it as an uncalled for and unhumorous violation. “When it hit media coverage there was outrage in the community and many were upset over the negative impact.”
Though there have have definitely been differences amongst community members over the years, ultimately, Furry Twitter has banded together in tough times to comfort and stand up for one another.
“A nine-year-old furry was bullied by a couple of people at a convention” over her fursuit, Smith recalled. He explained that after finding out about the incident on Twitter a group of furries got together with the young girl, took group pictures in support, and let her try on their fursuits.
“Another time, a friend of mine, , had her YouTube channel featured on the homepage of YouTube when she was 16,” Vix added. “While she got horrible attention from hundreds of outsiders, the community got together and helped her get past all of the negativity.”
Though outside attention has largely served as a unifying force for furries, a prolonged time in the spotlight has caused other subcultures, like the DIY community, to grow so popular that they’ve been driven apart.
Do It Yourself drama
DIY, or the act of creating something yourself rather than buying it, has always been around in some capacity. But over the years, the group that once consisted solely of resourceful people crafting passion projects has expanded to nearly every industry.
Now media sites publish endless lists of DIY life hacks. YouTube is full of tutorials for everything from how to cook, , and how to create beauty products from scratch. HGTV provides an endless source of inspiration for aspiring builders, and NBC just premiered a DIY-themed show called Making It.
In the ten years since the was created it’s amassed nearly 14 million subscribers, growing at an especially accelerated pace over the . And Reddittor , who’s been one of the lead moderators since 2016, has definitely noticed some changes.
“They’re not necessarily bad changes — they’re just different,” Hareuhal said, explaining that one of the major developments in the community since it’s gained outside attention has been an increase in “big players.”
“We have more bloggers and YouTubers than we did two years ago and they have many more subscribers than they used to,” Hareuhal explained. “Two years ago we received a handful of videos per week, whereas currently we receive several per day… As the subreddit has grown the attitude towards videos has shifted.”
“As the subreddit has grown the attitude towards videos has shifted.”
While you might assume established DIY YouTubers posting professional videos to the subreddit would be welcome, that’s not always the case. Since many YouTubers monetize their videos — some even using their channels as a main source of income — the videos can sometimes be seen as self-promotion, which is usually frowned upon on Reddit.
Johnny Brooke, a 30-year-old who started making two and a half years ago, has noticed an explosion in both the number of people participating in DIY projects and the fan base, which he feels has led to some of the disagreements.
“Since I started there have been dozens and dozens of other channels who started doing pretty similar things, and a lot of us now are doing this for a living, which is pretty cool,” he said, adding that he shares his videos regularly to the subreddit.
“But what I consider basic tools, somebody who’s really never done this stuff or just getting started might consider more advanced, so I think a lot of times there’s a disconnect between expectations of users and people like me,” Brooke said.
, a 37-year-old DIY YouTuber living in Southern California, also noticed the experience level user divide on the subreddit, and is trying to be more aware of what he posts as a result.
“Now, I really only try to post there if I feel like this is true DIY that people are going to get value out of.”
“When I first started I was a little bit more likely to post… Now, I really only try to post there if I feel like this is true DIY that people are going to get value out of,” he said. “Even though I disagree with a lot of it I understand it. So I don’t want to spam the community, I want to respect it and try to only post things that are legit DIY projects that even if somebody doesn’t have my shop they can still get some value out of or adapt it to whatever their situation is.”
But despite the difference in opinion, the DIY subreddit hasn’t stopped growing. “When I joined in 2016 we had 6.7 million members,” Hareuhal said, explaining that since then the subreddit has had some standout moments — including for the cast of home improvement show in 2017 and securing AMAs from other big names in DIY like , , and .
Luckily, not all viral subcultures have endured as much controversy as the furries or DIY community. The Neopets community, for example, which first took off after the creation in 1999 and ruled childhoods in the early 2000s, has recently made a fairly painless resurgence in our nostalgia-hungry society.
Reddit user , who goes by Steve, has been moderating for six and a half years and watched it grow from around 800 subscribers to almost 24,000. He’s done his best to remain close to the community over the years, calling Neopets fans he’s observed on the subreddit “so dang wholesome.”
“Everyone’s always helping each other achieve their goals, from things like completing their gallery, or getting that dream pet they’ve wanted for years, to web design and programming,” Steve said. He also noted that so far, the majority of outside attention — whether positive or negative — has left the subreddit off on a higher subscriber plateau.
This April, Neopets made headlines after The Outline that the kid-friendly site was run by Scientologists. And though there was initially some uproar and confusion from fans reminiscing on the beloved site, the Neopets community itself was barely impacted.
Reddit user , who joined the community about nine years ago and started moderating the r/neopets subreddit a little more than a year ago, said the Scientology bomb “wasn’t huge news for a lot of the community,” since Neopets creators Adam Powell and Donna Williams already discussed the topic in .
However, when Chrissy Teigen and confessed to being a former Neopets comment board moderator, the community quickly began trending again.
I was a comment board moderator. I won multiple caption contests. I’ve basically been told to barely move and let my baby grow so fuck it, I’m going back on neopets
— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) April 19, 2018
oh my god neopets has not changed a bit. the omelette…is still cooking
— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) April 19, 2018
“We mods generally buckle up when we see a celebrity mention Neopets,” Steve said. “So far it’s never been a bad thing… When people see ‘Neopets’ they’re like ‘Wow! I remember that!’ and then Google it and find the subreddit.”
But Reddit isn’t the only online platform where Neopets fans converge — people are also forming Facebook groups to bond over the virtual world. The main Neopets has 216,508 likes, but superfans looking for more frequent and intimate discussions are drawn to smaller Facebook groups like .
Melissa Forbes, a 26-year-old Neopets lover from South Australia serves as the group’s administrator with two of her friends, and together they provide a place for Neopets fans to chat, share information on events, site updates, and more. Since creating the group in 2015, the biggest change Forbes has noticed is an influx in returning Neopets players.
“Over the past few years, the kids who used to play back when I first started seem to have found their way back and essentially taken over the site,” she explained. “Whenever Neopets appears on a popular site or in an article, we generally get an influx of users returning and trying to find their feet again. This is when Neopets Nation gets a bunch of new members looking for advice and also [they are] just generally surprised to see how many adult players are still around.”
Neopets was bought and sold twice since 2005, so there’s been some changes to the site that tend to confuse returning users, but according to Forbes, Neopets is “very much still a large, thriving community.”
Can viral fame be everlasting?
While the furry, DIY, and Neopets subcultures have all evolved in their own ways, as new communities rise to fame one can’t help but wonder if they’ll be able to beat the viral odds and stand the test of time.
When it comes to the furry community, , a 25-year-old furry who joined the community in July 2015, thinks the key to future growth lies in people outside the furry fandom making an active effort to better understand it. “I’ve noticed furry has way more visibility and way more acceptance from the general population since I’ve joined,” Nos Hyena, whose fursona is a brightly colored hyena with abs and a mohawk, said.
“Right now it’s been cooler than ever to be a furry.”
He went on to explain that furries used to be made fun of a lot more, but media outlets have attempted to cover and . Influencers like Shane Dawson have also on which to express themselves, and moms of young furries even started a and to help educate other parents.
Ultimately, outside attention — positive and negative — has helped the community grow, and today more than 15,000 furries are on Furrymap.net. “Right now it’s been cooler than ever to be a furry!” Nos Hyena said.
As for the future of DIY, Bourke feels as long as technology continues to advance, DIY will thrive. It’s not only being seen as an opportunity to cut down on costs but as a seriously rewarding hobby. “I think that’s a big reason why it’s exploding,” he said. “A lot of us are looking for hobbies that will take us away from the screen, and this is sort of the best of both worlds.”
From a moderator’s point of view, Hareuhal’s hopes the subreddit keeps growing and wants to try and coordinate some meetups amongst the group that take place offline. Going forward, if the main DIY subreddit gets too overwhelming, it’ll be interesting to see if more specific offsets of the main hub — such as , , and even the subreddit — gain more popularity in the future.
“A lot of us are looking for hobbies that will take us away from the screen…”
Finally, Neopets — which is also seen by many as its own escape from the real world — at San Diego Comic-Con that a mobile site, app, and game called Legends and Letters are on the way. Despite the fact that a planned site redesign was shelved when JumpStart acquired the site in 2014, the community remains optimistic and hopes to keep drawing new and returning members. “Now’s a great time to get back into the game,” subreddit moderator Steve said.
Overall, members of these communities are positive about their futures, and though there may come a day when these subcultures dwindle down, for now they’ve withstood the storm that comes with viral attention, and they don’t seem to be fading into the background any time soon.