The first definitive shared media experience from the horrifying Paris attacks on Friday was a Vine video. It captured a single moment in the series of brutal attacks that would kill at least 129 people, and injure hundreds more. Like everything on Vine, it was by necessity very short: a soccer match, the insistent boom of a bomb, and the game goes on. Yet this little loop is now the most played Vine of all time, according to the company, with 149 million loops and counting.
And moreover, it's emblematic of the ways news gathering, distribution, and consumption work now. It was recorded by someone far away from the scene, who took just the most relevant part of what he was watching and posted it to social media accounts with modest followings.
The Vine in question isn't an on-the-ground piece of reporting from someone at the game filming the action on the field. It was created when Terje Haavin, a 22-year-old from Tromsø, Norway, captured video playing on his computer. In other words, it isn't the experience of someone witnessing the attacks firsthand, it's the experience of someone watching the attacks at home, edited to a bite-size length and then repeated indefinitely.
Haavin's Vines are almost always of soccer games, highlights that typically get thousands of loops (Vine measures the number of times a video is looped, rather than the number of times it is played) although on occasion he says he's had videos reach "one or two million."
"I always record the stream to post goals and highlights to Twitter in case something interesting comes up," Haavin told BuzzFeed News in an email. "I heard a loud bang midway through the first half, and the commentator was very confused about what had happened as well. I kept an eye on the news throughout the game and I noticed the first reports of an explosion outside of Stade de France. I immediately realized that the loud bang I had heard earlier in the game was the sound of the explosion. I had actually memorized when it happened, so I looked it up in my recording, cut out the exact moment with the explosion, uploaded it to Vine and posted a link on my Twitter."
Vine is designed to optimize sharing — the viewer can instantly reproduce what he or she is seeing on Vine itself, on Twitter, and even on Facebook. Similarly, it exists on its own platform, but also embeds and plays (automatically) on Twitter and web pages — which again makes it very sharable. Finally, Vine videos are small and lightweight enough that they serve up almost instantly on modern phone networks.
Once Haavin had distributed his Vine to social media, others began picking it up and re-sharing it. It was posted more than 300,000 times to Twitter, and almost 20,000 on Facebook. News outlets saw it and began embedding in countless articles — including in the first breaking news story about the attacks here on BuzzFeed News.
We may tend to think of the things that go viral as being uplifting or lighthearted: things like memes or funny moments from awards shows. But ultimately, virality is about shared experiences, even those that are tragic. Like this one.