If you've somehow gone this long without ever having heard of Area 51, you must've by now. With 75% of Americans having a laptop or home computer and even more having smartphones, it's hard to avoid exposure to viral media events. This most recent one took the world by storm, involved Area 51, and started as a joke on Facebook.
The originator of the event, Matty Roberts, created something that he had no idea would take off the way it did. He said so to NPR in an interview:
"When I posted the original event, I wasn't intending anything to actually happen. It was a meme that I was going to post on a meme page because I thought it was funny, kind of cheeky. It was like tongue-in-cheek - almost serious, but not really. And then it just completely took off, so now I'm in kind of damage control mode."
This was back in August after his July Facebook event titled Storm Area 51, They Can't Stop All Of Us got millions of responses. Responses in numbers to the point the United States Air Force and the Department of Defense had to issue statements telling people not to gather and sprint toward the gates of the top-secret USAF base. Roberts himself ended up discouraging event responders not to actually follow through with the plan. In 1962, 11.5% of federal civil cases went to trial, but, today, experts estimate only 1% make to the Federal courts. Trespassing on top-secret government property? That would have all sorts of consequences.
But, trying to stop masses of people on the internet in the throes of a viral event is impossible, so people ran with it. Of course, the lore surrounding Area 51 is shrouded in alien conspiracy theories, UFO sightings, and experimentation/discovery of extraterrestrial life being housed in the secret base. Naturally, the event was centered around those conspiracies with the fitting tagline: "Let's see them aliens."
With the drone industry worth nearly $100 billion and a large portion of it being military technology, no group of civilians -- no matter how large -- would've ever been able to approach, let alone break into the facility without being swiftly detected. So, slowly, the mass hysteria lost its momentum. Still, the September 20th "storm" date remained something that people, media outlets, and the government still kept their eyes on.
Come time to storm Area 51, the average American spending eight and a half hours in front of some type of screen per day, most enthusiasts remained in front of their screens. However, there was a small contingency of people who actually went to Area 51. About 40 people gathered in front of the gates of Area 51 around 3:00 AM with signs, costumes, the whole shebang before being broken up by law enforcement. Some 60% of Americans are covered by some sort of life insurance and this safety (and legal) risk seemed unwise to take. They probably weren't wrong. Although, rumors of extraterrestrial discovery, aliens, and UFOs remain unfounded and that is a true disappointment.
One arrest was made that night for public urination, but other than that it was relatively peaceful, the 40ish dedicated souls became the faces of an event millions rallied behind. An event that began as a joke.
It speaks for the power of social media and viral culture. Between 75% and 80% of attacks come from within an organization, not from any external threat. But, when the USAF and DoD are issuing statements of warning toward a Facebook event that went viral? One has to chuckle and tip their cap at the power social media can wield.
Area 51 remains cloaked in mystery, unperturbed by the social media mongering masses, silently awaiting the next time people stir themselves and want to see them aliens.
And that's why America's hair is so big. It's full of secrets.