On Valentine’s Day, senior Kayla Sims donned her special date night outfit, filmed her boyfriend’s reaction to it and posted it on TikTok. This type of reaction video is a familiar formula on the popular app, and Sims said she expected nothing special to come from it.
Even though her boyfriend of six months, junior Stephen Monroe, had reacted to her outfit by calling her a “silly goose” and saying “you’re so silly,” she figured it would get as much attention as the other videos she had posted with him.
“It wasn’t staged at all. I thought of this idea over winter break when I was just like thinking of things special to do for Stephen for Valentine’s Day,” Sims said. “When I planned making the video, I kind of just expected it would be like 30 people would like it and that would be about it. I just wanted to film it more for my sake and I thought it would be cute.”
Sims could not have been more incorrect in her prediction. By the time she checked her phone after dinner, the video had been viewed tens of thousands of times. As Sunday turned into Monday, the video was being watched hundreds of thousands of times, and then millions of times.
The video was splashed across meme pages on Instagram and Twitter with jeering captions. Thousands of comments flooded into Sims’s and Monroe’s social media pages. Monroe’s friends sent him posts of the video they had seen on other platforms and asked if it was him.
It was official: Sims and Monroe’s Valentine’s Day video had been memed, transformed into the viral “silly goose” meme that has since spread like wildfire on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter. Now the video has been viewed 13.5 million times on TikTok, with over 90,000 comments.
Some of the attention that the pair has gotten has been positive. The clothing brand Viable NYC is selling crewneck sweatshirts with an embroidered goose which say “Silly Goose” and “you’re so silly.” 50% of the proceeds will go towards the World Animal Foundation.
Additionally, the couple has received polite requests for their video to be used on meme pages as well as requests for cameos in happy birthday messages.
But the overwhelming majority of the reaction to the video has come in the form of mocking or outright mean comments. Sims said that it was too late to control the spread of the video by the time she read through the negative comments.
“By the time I had noticed that it had gotten so big, it seemed kind of pointless to get down cause almost a million people had seen it by the time I noticed just the extent (of) how not nice people were being,” Sims said. “People remaking the video I don’t think was negative in using it as a meme, it was mostly just the comments.”
The comments ranged from viewers expressing apparent disgust over the video to personal attacks on Sims and Monroe’s relationship.
Two weeks after the video was posted, Monroe said that he has a healthier view of the hateful comments, most of which were directed at him. Keeping in mind the positive encouragements that the couple received, he can go back through and laugh at the comments that he once avoided.
“I tried to stop reading them after a day … because there was just so many and the content in them was a lot,” Monroe said. “I’ve just laughed at them now, like in my head thinking about how these people have nothing better to do and they just don’t know me and they’re commenting these mean things, and I just don’t worry about it that much.”
Sims did not tag Monroe in the video, a decision that was arbitrary at the time she posted it, but has made it more difficult for hateful internet trolls to find his social media pages.
Monroe believes that his and Sims’s experience of going viral might have been more enjoyable if their video were not spread rapidly because of negative comments.
“I think the difference in this kind of situation is that it got big because people were being negative about it,” Monroe said. “But if people were being very positive about it and it got big, it would be a different situation.”
Sims now has a larger following on TikTok, having gained 10,000 new followers and two million more likes on her page as a result of the viral video. She said that the experience has encouraged her to use her platform to raise awareness on issues she cares most about.
As a nuclear engineering major, these issues include fighting negative misconceptions about nuclear energy and advocating for sustainability and social justice.
“I do have more of a platform now and I could change this attention, like make it for a more positive view and spread information that I think is important for people to know,” Sims said.
The couple said they will be more discerning about what they post from now on, since they have experienced how easy it is for random videos to blow up on platforms like TikTok or Twitter, where features like the retweet and the “for you page” spread content rapidly.
“I think a lot of why they get memed and why people are commenting mean things is ‘cause they don’t know us or understand us,” Sims said. “It’s hard to put context when TikTok is such short videos.”
Sims believes, however, that the ultimate responsibility for protecting people from shaming and hatred online lies with individual users who get caught up in a “pack mentality” and post damaging comments. She had to archive some of her TikToks, removing them from public view because users had begun to target other friends who featured in her videos.
“People don’t realize that their comments do have an impact on people’s mental health even if they think it’s a joke,” Sims said.
The couple encourages anyone who has a similar experience to try to ignore the negative comments until they are able to laugh about them.
More importantly, Monroe said that hurtful comments don’t just affect the content creators, but also other users who see the comments.
“The things that they were talking about aren’t jokes, they’re things people actually have to deal with every day, and are actually struggles for them,” Monroe said. “Even if you think something’s funny, you have to think about other people that may not think it is funny and actually take it very seriously.”
As for the request that Sims and Monroe have received for a happy birthday cameo, they figure they will do it even though they won’t get paid. After all they’ve been through since Valentine’s Day, granting the wishes of a persistent fan seems easy.
“I don’t think we’ll ever get to a point where we’re getting paid just to wish someone happy birthday,” Sims said. “We probably will, just because it’s the same girl and she’s been very persistent, and I was like, if it’s really gonna make her friend that happy, it takes us like two seconds.”