Social media trends: remembering viral challenges as MySpace turns 20 - from ice bucket to yanny and Laurel

Social media challenges and trends are so often short lived - what do you remember?

This year, MySpace is turning 20. Definitely not a relic, but something hazy with a hint of nostalgia as we grapple with the constant churning of social media. Effectively, MySpace died in 2009 as Facebook became the looming guardian of keeping in touch, reaching international stardom as the go-to social media platform. 

Since then, other social media platforms have battled for the crown, with each site offering users a new experience, which could be addictive or exploitative - but almost always entertaining. 

The first wave of social media came in the noughties with new sites cropping up every year, and we saw the creation of Friendster (2002), MySpace (2003), LinkedIn (2003), Facebook (2004), Reddit (2005), YouTube (2005), Twitter (2006) and Tumblr (2007) all before 2010. It would take  another year before we saw the rise of Instagram, and then four years later, we were introduced to Snapchat and Google +

Vine (rest in peace) was created in 2013, and the celeb-making platform of TikTok wasn’t formed until 2016. Over the past 20 years we have seen many trends come and go from these sites - so which ones do you remember?

When each social media platform was created: 

  • Friendster - 2002

  • LinkedIn - 2003

  • MySpace - 2003

  • Facebook- 2004 

  • Reddit - 2005

  • YouTube - 2005

  • Twitter - 2006 

  • Tumblr - 2007

  • Google + - 2011

  • Twitch - 2011

  • Snapchat - 2011

  • Instagram - 2012

  • Vine - 2013

  • TikTok - 2016

Online trends over the past 10 Years

Ice Bucket Challenge

NationalWorld asked members of the public about any trends they remembered over the past decade. One response mentioned the ice bucket challenge - where participants would pour a bucket of ice water over their or another person's head (it being consensual of course) to promote awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). 

The challenge raised over $220 million dollars worldwide after going viral in 2014. There are about 2.4 million tagged videos on Facebook. Several revivals were attempted from 2015 to 2019, with a few organisations competing in events annually, with an exception made during the pandemic. However, the challenge did not reach the same heights as it did in 2014. 


Other viral challenges that have taken off due to social media include Movember, and Facebook birthday fundraisers - with social media proving to be an effective method of gaining attention for charity. 

Planking and Mannequin Challenges

However, the ice bucket challenge was not the only challenge that gained popularity. For a few months, from late 2010 to early 2011 many people took part in the planking challenge, where people lay down in unusual places with their faces down and their arms at their side. Another notable challenge was the Mannequin Challenge which saw people freeze and act like mannequins when the camera was on them - this happened in 2016. 

Social media challenges and trends are so often short lived - what do you remember? Social media challenges and trends are so often short lived - what do you remember?
Social media challenges and trends are so often short lived - what do you remember?

The dress - blue or gold?

The infamous illusion dress was another viral trend mentioned by members of the public. The dress, which went viral in 2015, saw viewers disagree about whether the dress was black and blue or white and gold. It was initially posted on Facebook but within a week it had over ten million tweets. This trend has led to several studies in neuroscience and vision science investigating new insights into human colour vision. 

Another colour illusion went viral in October 2017, where a picture of a single shoe sparked an online debate on whether it was pink or teal.

TikTok Mirror Trend

Other viral illusion trends include the TikTok mirror trend, where people hold up a small object against a mirror with a piece of paper in between the object and the mirror - and people are surprised to see a reflection of the object and their hand, with the expectation the paper would block the reflection. 

Yanny or Laurel?

An audio illusion looks at the confusion between Yanny and Laurel after social media influencer and vlogger, Cloe Feldman, posted the question on her Instagram story, and then again on Twitter: “What do you hear? Yanny or Laurel,” in a sound clip.

More notable mentions include the shiny legs debate and the picture of the girl who seems to be missing her legs. The past few years have seen the rise of content creators to help boost the popularity of personal and company brands since social media is an optical place for brand awareness - this has led to the rise of influencers - another trend that sees people constantly keeping up with pop culture to maintain audience engagement. 

Sharing information with a niche remains key for online trends, as that keeps content makers relevant which sees the long-standing reign of YouTube as a social media platform. Vine, which was only alive for three years, provided an array of pop culture references which is still being seen to this day. 

The cycle of trends

Trends need to be snappy and interesting. With so much content out there - for something to become viral it needs to catch the attention of viewers immediately. As a trend, short-form video remains strong but how long does a trend last for? 

In short - not for long. Professor Yasmin Ibrahim, a Professor of Digital Economy at Queen Mary University of London, explains that when something goes viral, it is due to it sparking public interest: “As so much content vies for human attention, something going viral is dependent on its mass appeal and its potential to be shared widely.”

But as it needs to be catchy and interest is quickly lost, they become short-lived: “Viral imagination is precisely that, content that trends within a window of interest until the next viral content supersedes it” she says. 

So why does something go viral? Professor Ibrahim explains that internet trends or something going viral online is due to the design of “internet architecture where phenomena can be shared in real-time and disseminated through its global connectivity” where human interest and algorithms push the content through. So whether you’re a fan of viral trends or not - they’re here to stay.