These People Loved Going Viral And Then Things Got Ugly

March 5th 2016

Laura Donovan

Going viral for something funny or uplifting is generally more appealing than going viral for doing something negative, but even positive viral stories can have negative consequences. Even though viral fame brings celebrity recognition, adoration from fans, financial opportunity, and TV appearances, there are just as many downsides to winning the internet.

Here are some examples of people who started trending, and then learned that going viral can backfire.

1. The teens behind "Damn Daniel"

All 15-year-old Josh Holz wanted to do was film his 14-year-old friend Daniel Lara during downtime at high school. Holz's goofy 30-second video of Daniel, titled "Damn Daniel," exploded on the internet in mid-February, racking up hundreds of thousands of likes and retweets from people all over the nation. The teenagers, who are from Riverside, California, even appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," where Daniel got a lifetime supply of Vans and Josh received a "Damn Daniel" surfboard from the program:


A video posted by Ellen (@theellenshow) on


A photo posted by Ellen (@theellenshow) on

If all of this sounds too good to be true for a pair of teenage boys who were only looking to goof off in a social media video, it's because it is. Josh quickly fell victim to an annoying swatting prank that led police to show up to his house one morning around 1:00 a.m. Swatting is when somebody reports a false but severe crime, such as murder, so police will go to that individual's house to investigate. After the Riverside Police Department got a call that someone had been shot at Holz's home, they went to the location, which was found to be safe.

"We believe and the family believes that since their video went viral, it's somehow connected," Riverside police Lt. Kevin Townsend told local news station KABC. "Ever since their video has gone out there, they've received a number of what they call strange phone calls and emails, and a lot of strange things happening so tonight was just another incident for their family."

The trouble didn't end there for Josh. His Twitter account was hacked, and in the process, his viral video disappeared. It has since been restored, however.

2. Sam and Nia

Sam and Nia

Christian couple Sam and Nia made headlines last summer after Sam announced to Nia that she was pregnant in a viral YouTube video. After Nia told Sam that her period was late, he used her pee from the toilet to take a pregnancy test, telling viewers that his wife doesn't like flushing the toilet at night.

Sam surprised her with the pregnancy announcement and their video went viral, but just a couple days later, the pair announced in another video that Nia had miscarried the pregnancy.

It's important to note that some people accused Sam and Nia of staging the entire pregnancy announcement as a way to promote their Christian Values and their Youtube channel. Some people were also suspicious because the two flaunted the number of video views they received from going viral:

Sam and Nia

A few weeks after their miscarriage announcement, when the infidelity facilitating dating site Ashley Madison was hacked, Sam confirmed reports that he previously had an account on the platform while married to Nia.

"[My wife] has forgiven me for this mistake that I made in opening the account," Sam said in a video about the scandal, adding that he never met anyone face-to-face while using the site. "I've sought forgiveness [from] God, and he has forgiven me, so I have been completely cleansed of this sin."

Right after he admitted to having an account on Ashley Madison, he was kicked out of a Vlogger Fair conference in Seattle for fighting with another vlogger who criticized the way he approached his wife's miscarriage on social media.

When Gawker asked Sam if he'd threatened anyone, Sam said, "That’s absolutely not true. If I made a threat, it was to the one person, and it was, ‘You need to watch out before he messes with my family.’”

Even before they went viral for the pregnancy and miscarriage videos, Sam and Nia were the subject of a petition demanding that NatureBox drop their sponsorship for coercing their children to criticize gay marriage in a video, which has since been deleted.

3. Alex From Target

In late 2014, the hashtag #AlexFromTarget started trending after a female Twitter user named Abbie posted a photo of a teenager working during his shift at Target. The boy's name is Alex Lee, and many celebrated the photo because they found him attractive. Like his successors Daniel and Josh, Alex became an instant celebrity after going viral and went on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" to talk about his experience.

This came at a high price, though. A few weeks into his fame, Alex told The New York Times that he'd been hiding out at home out of fear of being ambushed.

“I’ve been in the house the entire time,” he said. “I’m kind of scared to go in public.”

Alex was also subjected to online bullying, death threats, and false rumors that he'd gotten fired for creating too much of a circus. Alex's dad Eric Fooks also said the family's social security numbers, bank account numbers, and phone records had been leaked online, leading the family to contact authorities and set up security plans to keep Alex safe at school and work.

As The Times notes in its piece about Alex, a marketing firm called Breakr tried to claim responsibility for launching the #AlexFromTarget meme, but Alex's family has denied this is true, and after doing some digging, BuzzFeed News and several other outlets reported that the claims indeed seemed unfounded.

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