The Internet is forever, and sometimes, the discourse surrounding certain events feels like it’s going on forever, too. The moment something happens, users flood social media timelines with takes, feelings, and opinions about what just happened. Those debates evolve into think pieces from journalists across the media sphere, taking over the news cycle. Before we know it, another culturally significant event has taken place, thus creating the never-ending ouroboros that is Internet culture.
Some events, naturally, dominate the news cycle more than others. But with not all culturally significant events are made with the same ingredients: Some are pure shock value, while others are born out of celebrity gossip that has a morsel of truth, but most of the time it’s just general human stupidity. This year, those moments included multiple accounts of dating drama, a pink sauce that had a high chance of causing bodily harm to those who consumed it and, of course, plenty of Internet conspiracy theories.
Here are the 10 most viral moments that took over our social media timelines in 2022.
10. Slapgate: Will Smith vs. Chris Rock vs. Jada Pinkett-Smith
It happened, and we wanted it to be over, but seemingly every celebrity decided to share their feelings on the matter. At the 2022 Academy Awards in March, host Chris Rock did as Oscar hosts do and poked fun at famous audience members. At one point, he turned to Jada Pinkett-Smith, who was there supporting her husband, Will Smith, during his bid for Best Actor for his role in King Richard. Rock poked fun at Pinkett-Smith’s shaved head, asking her when G.I. Jane 2 was coming out, which appeared to upset Pinkett-Smith, who has spoken openly about shaving her head because of hair loss due to alopecia.
Smith was not happy with the joke, and the cameras cut to Smith walking on stage and slapping Rock across the face. When Smith returned to his seat, Rock tried to defend himself by saying it was just a joke, to which Smith responded by yelling back at him, “Keep my wife’s name out your f-cking mouth!”
Tensions were raised throughout the rest of the night as people waited with bated breath to see if Smith would be escorted out (he was not) or win in his category (he did). Smith gave a long-winded speech and cried, but the media storm that came after was relentless. Actors were asked about it and said they were “traumatized” and “sickened” (see: Amy Schumer and Jim Carrey). It became one of the most talked about moments on social media for days. There were TikTok creators who broke down the slap moment by moment, memes on memes, and many arguments about misogynoir and Smith having had to repress his feelings about the moment to be palatable to white audiences for so long.
9. West Elm Caleb
The West Elm Caleb drama took over people’s TikTok “For You Page” for days and wouldn’t let up as the situation deteriorated. It all started with women sharing stories on the app in January about how they went on a date with a man named Caleb, who seemed like a great potential suitor: among his romantic gestures, he would take dates to museums and create custom Spotify playlists for them. According to the women, he is a conventionally attractive, 6’4″ white man who allegedly designed furniture for West Elm—hence the nickname.
Many of the women said they were being “love bombed” by Caleb. As a therapist explained to Cosmopolitan, “love bombing is characterized by excessive attention, admiration, and affection with the goal to make the recipient feel dependent and obligated to that person.”
Dots started to connect when a woman named Mimi Shou uploaded a video about dating a different guy named Caleb, prompting the other women to start talking and figure out that they were all dating the same terrible Caleb, many of them simultaneously. Slate’s ICYMI podcast interviewed women who said they dated Caleb and one said that he allegedly sent unsolicited dick pics on two separate occasions. All the while, people began finding out what neighborhood he lived in and publicizing it on social media in order to warn others about his behavior. The drama raised questions about privacy online, and opened up a conversation about mob mentality, all while taking the notion of a whisper network to a decidedly public domain.
8. The Journey to the Womblands
Some people create their own downfalls online. This is exactly what happened in the case of Chelsea Hart (@chelseahartisme) and Lance Tsosie (also known as @modern_warrior__ on TikTok). Tsosie is an Indigenous creator who had a large following on TikTok, where he would call people out for racist, homophobic, or transphobic content by dueting their posts and promptly shutting them down with his catchphrase, “Hey Colonizer,” before telling them what they did wrong. (His account now appears to be deleted.)
Hart, who is also a content creator and makes videos on social justice topics, uploaded a video in March about dating Tsosie and said they believed they were in a monogamous relationship. They mentioned that they told Tsosie they did not want to explore polyamory, which seemingly was a question posed by Tsosie. Hart uploaded a video in March about dating Tsosie. In the since-deleted TikTok, they said they flew to visit Lance, had unprotected sex, and soon after saw Tsosie post a TikTok with a woman, leading them to believe Tsosie was being blatantly unfaithful in what they saw as a monogamous relationship. Hart, in another since-deleted post, frantically responded to this alleged betrayal, saying that they might be pregnant and “have an ache in my womb, Lance.” The two words heard together prompted millions of rapt viewers to question whether Hart was saying “womb, Lance” or “womblands.” Thus culminating in the joke, “Where are the womblands?”
Tsosie is fully absent from TikTok and seems to only be on Instagram, and Hart continues to make social justice videos. As far as viral moments go, this was a fairly random one that spawned countless inside jokes about other people’s business and fostered a community of nosy people. Even so, all this could have been handled over text—and not on a platform where millions can follow along.
7. The Lesbian Emu TikToker Who Almost Caught Avian Flu
The world is already on edge with zoonotic diseases because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was believed to have originated in bats. The thought of a lesbian farmer almost catching avian flu from an emu on her farm that was suspected of having it, put social media on edge once again. Anyone who has used TikTok for long enough might’ve been served videos from emu owners showing off their birds’ personalities. It’s a niche corner of the platform that’s just captivating enough to make its way into the mainstream every now and then. One of the newest emu TikTok influencers, Taylor Blake, captured the heart of TikTok with her emu, Emmanuel Todd Lopez. Blake and her partner, Kristian Haggerty, co-own Knuckle Bump Farms in South Florida, from which Blake would attempt to make educational videos for her followers until they were disrupted by Emmanuel. A typical video would show her in the middle of talking when the giant, flightless bird would sneak his way into the frame and try to peck the screen, with Blake yelling, “Emmanuel, don’t do it.” His antics helped Blake gain over two million followers on TikTok and a guest appearance spot on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Animals Against Education with a TWIST: I educated over their interruptions😅 #animalsagainsteducation #emmanueldontdoit #emmanueltheemu #princessthedeer #fernthedeer #jasonthepig #jenniferthepig #junethedonkey
In October, Blake created a Twitter thread, where she announced that wild Egyptian geese had brought a deadly case of avian influenza to their farm, and they had lost about 99% of their birds. She wrote that she lost “50+ birds in one day,” and that Emmanuel “went down” shortly after. She posted a video in the thread of her lying down with Emmanuel, kissing and cuddling with him. This caused concern, especially amongst scientists online, with one virologist tweeting, “If your emu (or any bird) has avian influenza, do not kiss it. Do not cuddle with it. Do not touch it. Bird flu is extremely dangerous to humans and other animals. And it sounds harsh but to prevent it’s (sic) spread, birds that get avian flu should be euthanized.”
While the drama started with avian flu, it soon drew attention to Blake’s old tweets, with users re-amplifying comments described as “racist” and “oppressive.” Twitter user @popelizbet tweeted in June that Blake had a different Twitter handle in 2012 when she uploaded her offensive tweets and quote-tweeted a different user who provided screenshot proof. A viral Twitter thread laid out the possibility that she might have lied to the Florida Department of Agriculture so that she could keep Emmanuel, who is a source of income, alive. She later posted that the bird tested negative for avian influenza and was recovering.
Blake did not respond to those tweets and took some time away from TikTok during the outbreak and the resurfaced tweets, then resumed posting at the end of November. She seemingly didn’t suffer any fallout, if any, and maintained her millions of followers on TikTok.
6. Try Guys Tried Adultery
In a string of events that no one seemed to have seen coming, one of the Internet’s biggest self-proclaimed wife guys cheated on his wife. The Try Guys are a group of men made up of Zach Kornfeld, Eugene Lee Yang, Keith Habersberger, and formerly Ned Fulmer. The quartet gained popularity on Buzzfeed’s YouTube channel in 2014 for, as their name suggests, being guys who tried things (athletic feats, wearing women’s fashions, eating weird things, you name it). In their videos, each member had his own personality that fans related to. Fulmer was extremely in love with his wife and talked about her all the time.
The group later split from Buzzfeed and created its own production company to release its videos. In late September, Fulmer was accused of being spotted out with a junior employee in the company and cheating on his wife. The drama unfolded in parts, with the accusations coming first, followed by silence from the other members of the group, a statement on the company’s social media, Fulmer announcing his departure, and a video from Kornfeld, Yang, and Habersberger—which SNL spoofed soon after, later receiving backlash for “laughing off workplace misconduct.”
Fulmer was edited out of multiple videos, and the day after he announced he was leaving, paparazzi spotted him and his wife, Ariel, on the street, where they said that they were “working things out.” This drama came on the heels of other celebrity men at the center of cheating rumors—notably Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine and Celtics coach Ime Udoka—and served as a referendum on American attitudes towards infidelity.
5. The (Pink) Sauce that Almost Killed People
A runny pink sauce started appearing on people’s “For You” page in June as its creator, Carly Pii, began promoting it on TikTok. Pii, who goes by @chef.pii, made several videos drizzling the sauce on everything from fried chicken to tacos. People soon began to notice the sauce changing shades of pink from magenta to baby pink, and when they asked her what it tasted like, she would vaguely respond with comments like “100% naturally colored with no artificial additives, and I can’t tell you the ingredients to make it pink.”
PINK SAUCE 💖🔥
In June, Pii made the sauce available to purchase and used social media to market the product. On the product’s website, she listed “dragon fruit, honey, chili, sunflower seed oil, and garlic” as the ingredients—finally answering the question of what made the sauce pink. People began to notice some errors on the label. Vinegar was spelled incorrectly, and the serving size indicated that the ketchup bottle-sized container held 14 lbs. of sauce. One of the ingredients listed was milk, causing concerns about botulism—an illness caused by improperly packaged foods. The bottles were not packaged properly for shipment, lacked refrigeration or an ice pack to keep them from spoiling, and some people received exploded bottles.
She owned up to her mistakes and told her followers that she would be following “FDA standards” from now on and continues to sell the product. The incident raised awareness of amateur business people using the platform to promote their products while shirking regulations and basic duties to protect human safety.
4. “Lea Michele Can’t Read” and the Funny Girl Drama
Lea Michele famously grew up in the theater and made her Broadway debut as young Cosette in Les Misérables, then taking a role in Ragtime, followed by Spring Awakening. In 2020, one of her Glee co-stars, Samantha Ware, accused her of being a bully, which created a wave of negative public sentiment directed at Michele before she returned to the Broadway stage in 2022.
Last year, a revival of the 1964 musical Funny Girl was announced, with Beanie Feldstein cast in the leading role of Fanny Brice. Following its opening this past spring and a swarm of negative reviews, rumors began to circulate that Michele was set to take over the role, but TikTokers began to start rumors of their own, alleging that Michele can’t read. It took over “For You” pages as more rumors surrounded Feldstein’s replacement.
Users provided evidence that they gathered from over the years: everything from observing that Michele always has her assistant text for her, to a time when she was on a talk show with the Glee cast playing a game for which she came with her answers pre-written, to rumors that she was fed her lines on Glee. After it was announced that she was set to replace Feldstein, the New York Times asked to address the rumors to which she replied, “I went to Glee every single day. I knew my lines every single day. And then there’s a rumor online that I can’t read or write? It’s sad. It really is. I think often if I were a man, a lot of this wouldn’t be the case.”
🤯THE CRAZIEST CONSPIRACY THEORY ABOUT THEM🤯 Part 2: Lea Michele
She then started making fun of herself and making TikToks about the rumors, playing into the joke and finally putting the rumors to rest.
3. Don’t Worry Darling and Spitgate
The drama surrounding the production of the Don’t Worry Darling movie overshadowed the film itself, an imperfect movie that was actually not as terrible as the chatter would have you believe. In July, gossip about Florence Pugh’s on-set feud with director Olivia Wilde began to pop up on TikTok as people noticed that she wasn’t promoting the movie as heavily as her co-star Harry Styles or Wilde. The Internet began analyzing her every move to glean any hints about the supposed feud.
i was not buying this theory until TODAY ☕️ do you think there’s drama between florence and olivia?! #dontworrydarling #florencepugh #oliviawilde #dontworrydarlingmovie #dontworrydarlingtrailer #dwd #dwdtrailer #harrydontworrydarling #harrystyles
To briefly return to the origins of the alleged bad blood: In April 2020, it was announced that Shia LaBeouf was cast as the male lead, Jack. LaBeouf was later replaced by Styles, citing insufficient rehearsal time. Singer FKA Twigs alleged LaBeouf abused her in 2020, (he acknowledged “failings” in the relationship but “not the narrative that has been presented”) and caused people to speculate this might have played a role in Pugh’s aversion to working with LaBeouf. Wilde told Variety in an interview that she fired LaBeouf, which he later contradicted.
The first time the cast got together amid the drama was at the Venice Film Festival in early September, where everyone but Pugh was in attendance. During a panel discussion, Wilde said that Pugh wanted to be there but couldn’t due to scheduling conflicts with filming for Dune 2. Not too soon after, Pugh sauntered onto the Lido donning a bold purple Valentino look while holding an Aperol spritz. During the first showing of the movie, a video of Styles taking his seat next to Chris Pine circulated widely after people on the Internet thought they observed Styles spitting in Pine’s lap. Both of the men denied it via their spokespeople, and Styles later poked fun at the rumors at one of his concerts. Social media was set ablaze with memes, and people began playing amateur sleuths, conjuring up conspiracy theories about what might’ve happened even though there likely wasn’t one, all because we were bored and blew a small drama out of proportion onto national headlines.
2. Queen Elizabeth’s Death and Twitter
Queen Elizabeth II’s death after 70 years on the throne, shocked the world. News of her declining health had reverberated across the world and social media timelines. After her passing, some people—mostly in the UK, who idolized the Queen—were upset by her passing and tweeted out condolences to the Royal Family. Others took the opportunity to express their distaste for the monarchy, its imperialism, and colonialism. Memes and jokes were shared widely on social media.
Being that YouTuber Trisha Paytas was pregnant with her first child and close to being born, Twitter users began saying that her baby was the Queen reincarnated.
Twitter was set ablaze for days and it spilled out to other social platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.
1. Amber Heard vs. Johnny Depp
The defamation case between Amber Heard and Johnny Depp that started with a 2018 op-ed in The Washington Post created some of the biggest moments on the Internet this year. We haven’t seen this much fervor for a morally sticky trial since Casey Anthony back in 2011—and that was before TikTok was around to showcase some of the ugliest tendencies of humanity.
Heard filed for divorce in 2016 and accused Depp of physical abuse. In 2020, phone recordings showed Heard “admitting” to hitting Depp, along with testimonies from the trial where they accuse each other of abuse, people online were quick to take sides. Depp’s supporters were more numerous and louder than Heard’s, and statements against her often reeked of misogyny. As is often the case with trials that are plastered across every social media platform and publication, the court of public opinion comes into play to decide a “winner.”
The Internet is where nuance goes to die, and that’s exactly what happened with the Depp v. Heard trial. There was so much noise about whose offenses were greater, and very little acknowledgment of shades of gray. After, the jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages, and Heard $2 million in compensatory damages. Although social media platforms are often where we go for entertainment and a distraction from the realities of the world, they also reveal some of the darkest corners of the Internet with some of the scariest people. Hopefully, people aren’t as terrible in 2023, but I won’t be holding my breath.
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