Hoax Video Gone Wrong Turns Into Accidental Social Experiment

Hoax Video Gone Wrong Turns Into Accidental Social Experiment

What started as a goofy hoax video turned into something much more than I imagined. This hilariously absurd video (so I thought), turned into a storm of chaos, confusion, concern, joy, tears, and everything in between.

Our family reached out to my wife and me with questions, concerns & congrats. Some of my close friends called me to congratulate me on being a “man” and owning up to responsibility. . . I couldn’t believe it. I unexpectedly created chaos in the lives of people I care about the most. My sincere apologies go to anyone who may have had hurt feelings or were negatively affected by the “father introduces his son” hoax video.

I started this goofy video concept and it turned into a fascinating social experiment about the dangers of social media traps, buying into everyone else’s “stories,” how easily TV can manipulate imagery to evoke emotions, the power of perception within social media, and much more.

Believe it or Not

This may be hard to believe, but not a single person in the video knew what I was doing while filming or editing.

It’s very simple. Our daughter, Madelyn, invited her friend Peyton with us to Thanksgiving(s). That morning while on my run, I came up with a funny idea to create a video where I would pretend to be Peyton’s father. . . I figured I could try to record people and ask questions throughout the day. I didn’t really think I would be able to pull it off without everyone knowing what I was doing. I was wrong.

As the day progressed, I asked our family weird questions in hopes that I could snag a few funny responses. My dad, unbeknownst to him, gave the best material. I was able to splice his answers to my odd questions perfectly. The video makes him look like a grandfather who didn’t know how to handle meeting his long-lost grandson for the first time. Sorry, dad. Anyone who knows you, knows you are the most welcoming guy out there.

On our way home, I threw on some headphones and started editing all the footage. Within a short time, I created my little masterpiece and surprisingly had all the footage I needed to create a funny video that was a bit too believable. I uploaded it to YouTube and Facebook. And, voila! Let the chaos begin. . .

I have learned invaluable insight into the power of social media (both good and bad). This joke quickly turned into an accidental social experiment of the human condition regarding social media.

The Power of Family

Family on all sides reached out and encouraged us. The power of family is enormous. I was touched by the outpouring of support, empathy & encouragement. The support shown, in social media of all places, was shocking. I realize now, more than ever, that strong family bonds transcend our blemishes, mistakes, and flaws.

Lesson Learned: Family may not like the decisions you make, but most of your family will still love and accept you. Don’t try to hide the real you from the people who matter the most.

I realize now, more than ever, that strong family bonds transcend our blemishes, mistakes, and flaws.

Current Perception is Reality

There are pictures on my Facebook feed with Peyton and me in October for Madelyn’s homecoming. I would never expect people to do research about my life if I were to make a post. However, the social media world only seems to notice the “now.”

The perception of “now” vs. reality are two entirely different things. Two months earlier was a lifetime ago in the eyes of this digital machine.

Lesson Learned: I say this to our daughters often, “you won’t remember every article of clothing or even the names of all your current friends. But you will certainly remember meaningful relationships and experiences.” What we put on social media is open for interpretation and is not reality.

But you will certainly remember meaningful relationships and experiences.

The World Is Fake?

The content in the video was made up. There was not a single person in the video that knew what I was doing. Yet, it became “reality” thanks to technology.

Our world is surrounded by the fake. Think about it. Images on social media typically show us at our best. Many people modify their pictures with filters to show the world their perfect lives. But that’s a lie. No one’s life is as perfect as it is made out to be with social media.

Have you posted something that showed your life better than what it really is?

You Be You

Several friends and family reached out privately because of the sincerity of my hoax video. I am grateful for them doing so.

Sincere posts attract more REAL emotions & care. “My perfect life” or “look how cool I am” are empty posts. Your real friends are good with you. Your true self is always better than any falsified version.

Your true self is always better than any falsified version.

Imagery Evokes Emotions

I work with many younger people in my industry. These are talented people who grew up with social media. At times, they speak to me about underlying anxiety and a need to fit in online. People often look at the images of what others have going on in their lives and feel the need to measure up.

I call this social media envy. It’s all crap. We’re all flawed.

Why don’t people take pictures of bad days at work? Why don’t people take pictures of their empty refrigerators or their credit card bills?

The use of video & powerful photos can evoke emotions and perpetuates the perception of something that is not real.

People see but might not comment

At the time of this post, there are roughly 50 “likes” and a handful of comments. These numbers feel small. However, there are nearly 1000 views between the Facebook version and the YouTube version in less than 48 hours. What you post reaches more people than you think.

Lessons Learned: One, a lot of people see your posts but may not comment or “like” what you put out there (see addiction below). Two, Facebook & Instagram auto-play videos which grab the attention of the viewer. This feeds imagery that stirs emotions and keeps the audience in the trap longer.

What you post reaches more people than you think.

Reality Videos Can Be Faked

If I could create a video like this with just my phone, imagine what professional producers can do.

Question everything.

Social Media is Addicting

Truth be told, I quickly became addicted to watching responses from this post. I found myself staring at my phone too much. This is not my normal behavior, so I’m fascinated by how quickly I got sucked into my own bullshit.

In 2012, the Harvard Business Review reported several studies on the effects of social media. Social media addiction is real. The social “likes” release dopamine, a “feel-good” neurotransmitter. You naturally want to feel good more often. Social media feeds you these social likes and prompts you to come back with that little red bubble on your phone.

Snippet from Your Brain on Facebook, by David Rock

We know that social rewards light up the brain’s reward circuits more than non-social rewards, and that social threats, such as feeling lonely or ostracized, light up the threat center more than non-social threats. We’ve even seen that social pain, like being left out of an activity, lights up the same regions as physical pain. And that taking Tylenol can reduce social pain more than a placebo.

Just recently we learned that where you are in the pecking order of a group of people taking an IQ test has an impact on your own IQ score. We even know that positive social habits are more important for health than diet and exercise. (Surprisingly, moderate drinking is likely to have you live longer than being a non-drinker, probably due to the social benefits.)

These types of findings explain the success of social media. We’re giving people something that deeply excites the brain in highly condensed form, which keeps them coming back. After all, the brain is built to minimize danger, and maximize rewards, and in a modern society with few real dangers, we focus on the most rewarding activities that take the least effort (minimizing effort is also seen as a reward).
Here is the seed of the problem. Social media can be so rewarding, that it overwhelms our ability to focus on other things. Our brain has terribly weak circuitry for inhibiting impulses, especially impulses that look delicious.

We’re giving people something that deeply excites the brain in highly condensed form, which keeps them coming back.

It’s a wrap

In conclusion, this hoax prompted me to examine the falsehoods AND truths that can exist in social media.

Social media is not bad. Like society, it is what you make of it. I believe social media is a powerful tool that can connect us all in a meaningful way. Real, authentic posts are what your real friends want to see. Anything else is feeding your mental machine empty calories.

Real, authentic posts are what your real friends want to see.

A special thanks to my buddy Peyton. He was gracious enough & has a strong enough sense of humor to let me post this video. Dad & Papa Tom, I hope one day you will find the humor in this project. To all my family and friends for the incredible support. Thank you. I genuinely did not think this video was believable and assumed everyone knew it was a joke. Case in point, my own perception is not others’ reality. 

Joel Sellentine

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