The Art of the Troll
Phase 1 – The image
Since the site was founded in late 2014, ATC Memes and it’s noble users have been giving the world classic and notable images, audio files, videos, and other forms of media entertainment referencing some of the best and most commonly experienced situations within the world of aviation and air traffic control. Over the past year, the ATC Memes team have created classic audio files such as ‘N700LS landing in Burbank‘, ‘Airline and procedure stereotypes‘, Donald Trump’s airplane joking about Delta chop with ATC, and other recordings that simulate situations all too familiar in the world of air traffic control that have garnered millions of views on Facebook. Some images have been seen in excess of over 50 million times, and the Facebook page has over 104,500 fans as of this writing. Even some aviation terms that used to be innocent and routine (such a “light chop”, and “Southwest xxx requesting direct xxx”) have become synonymous with ATC Memes jokes. Indeed, the page is incredibly popular. Yet even with all of these successful posts and media creations, few people could have expected what happened on November 30, 2016.
At around 6pm EST on that day, a meme was posted to our page, claiming that the navigational lights on aircraft are actually green and red to celebrate Christmas. This post immediately sparked wild controversy among fans and adversaries of ATC Memes alike.
Regardless of people’s opinions on whether they enjoyed the humor or not; or if they simply thought the post was stupid, the viral aspect was undeniable. Within 12 hours, the post had been shared 4500 times, and within a day, it was shared over 7000. There was no turning back as the meme spread far beyond the reaches of the aviation community, and into the notoriously gullible public collective.
Analytics and the audio file.
After waking up on the morning of December 1st, 2016, one of the two members of ATC Memes, David Lombardo, was immediately curious as to who was sharing this meme. “To be honest, I study the analytics of most of our viral content in SPSS, because we can learn a lot about our fans.”
“Usually after about 24 hours of what I call the ‘acceleration’, typically sharing begins to slow down; the meme has climaxed and is now entering a dormant stage. With the Christmas lights meme, that was not happening. In fact,the derivative of the trend was positive, meaning the sharing was accelerating.”
In just 24 hours, the meme had been seen over 1.7m times, and was being shared at an accelerated rate. Many of the comments on the meme suggested that people would be ‘stupid enough to try this in real life’, as one fan wrote. So, ATC Memes though it would be a pretty good idea to make it happen. “In real life”.
Phase 2- The audio file
At this point, knowing that there was a huge viral wave to catch, Lombardo immediately tracked a recording simulating a pilot addressing a JetBlue flight. In the scenario the pilot references ‘requests to change our light bulb colors by passengers’ and mentions that it is ‘set in FAA and ICAO regulations that the lights are standardized colors’. This audio was uploaded to the page around 7:30AM EST on the morning of December 1st, and within an hour, it had been viewed over 20,000 times.
(For those interested in the actual making of this audio, that video is available here)
The final audio/video file:
Immediately, people began commenting.
Regardless, the post was shared thousands of times, and it only added fuel to the original meme, which at this point had over 13,000 shares. ATC Memes’ main Facebook page was being bombarded by requests as to where we got the audio (mostly, who recorded it), and if we believed we had created some sort of aviation revolution. It wasn’t long before other sites much bigger than ATC Memes began picking this story up.
Phase 3 – The trolling in full swing
By the afternoon of December 1, both the image and the video had been viewed well over 2.5m times. It was at this point that I began to wonder if third party sources would start to rebroadcast (or repeat, to use a ham radio term) these media files. At around 4pm, I received word that this did in fact happen. The meme made it onto Snopes.com.
I immediately put a link onto the ATC Memes Facebook page, and went back to study the Snopes page in it’s entirety.
Collected via an apparent e-mail submission, the Snopes page presented this as the original source of inquiry for the Snopes team to look into:
Originally saw on Facebook… Did reverse image search to find the link. Picture state that they swap airplane lights for Christmas. Do they?
What’s even more interesting is that Snopes went so far as to call the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to confirm that this was, in fact, a hoax:
We contacted the Federal Aviation Administration to determine what (if any) colors were standard on passenger jet wings. They told us that “for generations,” the port (left) wing has borne a red light, and the starboard (right) wing a green one. The representative said this had been standard in aviation for decades, antedating even the FAA itself, and is not related to Christmas or any other season
Even so, the Snopes page itself was wildly popular; one of the most popular pages to ever be submitted, gathering over 4200 shares in just 24 hours.
At this point, ATC Memes were celebrating one of the most successful trolling campaigns in internet history. But there was more in store for them. Sometime during the afternoon of December 2, another fan tipped off the fact that ATC Memes had made the aggregate news website INQUISITR.
Similar to the Snopes article, this one mentions just how fast the audio file spread, suggesting that people were, in fact, taking the original meme seriously.
The so-called public service announcement is apparently being taken literally by some folks who don’t get the joke about how cute it might be for the red and green lights on plane wings to represent Christmas colors. As seen in the video, the meme claims that certain airlines that are owned by Christians make a practice of changing their lights on their planes’ wings to red and green in order to celebrate Christmas.
The reporting via Snopes and INQUISITR was also rebroadcast by a few other aggregate news sites, such as Business2Community.
In the age of social media, where our world is largely digital, I believe it is not only fascinating to study how one simple image and audio file can radically shake up the world, but imperative that people understand it. When all was said and done, as of this writing, the memes combined, with aggregate rebroadcasting and sharing, have over 6million views. This really does not account for stand-alone analytics from sites like Snopes, since we do not have any methods to measure those remotely.
Still, what was the one thing that made this incredible feat of internet achievement possible? It was you. It was the fans! Our fans at ATC Memes make this whole thing work. It is not only to share a few laughs, let off some steam (and make fun of Delta now and then), but it is about community; the common good of the people. Though not without the inevitably bite of controversy, I believe that the power of viral memes like this represent the power of people in numbers. If you ever feel weak, or feel that you don’t make much of a difference in this world, hold your head high, and be proud for what you did. Whether you are on a Southwest plane that is 9000 feet too high on final, a Delta plane experiencing ridiculous amounts of chop, or on an American 767-400 deviating 128 miles out of the way for a 200-foot cloud, feel good about yourself. For you helped share the simple meme that completely shook up the aviation industry within 48 hours.