Video case study: How ‘10 hours walking in NYC’ became the most talked-about viral of the year

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Just what is it like to be a woman walking the streets of New York City alone? This controversial video from non-profit organisation Hollaback! filmed the real-life reactions of men as a woman walks around the city. This case study looks at how the video put street harassment in the spotlight, getting a huge 37 million views in just three weeks.


On October 28th, 2014, the Street Harassment Video YouTube channel uploaded a montage video featuring GoPro footage of a woman walking around New York City while being repeatedly catcalled by various men.

Hollaback! is an international group that has been fighting street harassment since 2005.

The execution

The hidden camera video reveals that a New York City woman was “harassed on the street” 108 times in 10 hours.

Dressed in ‘jeans and a crew-neck T-shirt’, 24-year-old volunteer Shoshana Roberts drew repeated comments about her body during strolls around Manhattan — by guys who ranged from irritating to scary.

The group released the video — which was shot over several days in late September — to raise money and awareness to combat “street harassment,” said Emily May, executive director of Hollaback!.

“I want people to see it and say, ‘Holy crap,” May said. “All of these smaller comments add up, when you’re constantly bombarded throughout the day about how you look — it’s the sum of it all,” she said. “We hope people walk away with an understanding about how it feels.”

To shoot the video, titled “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,” filmmaker Rob Bliss, strapped a hidden camera to his backpack then walked in front of the actress to record the dozens of catcalls, according to Hollaback!

In the video, men also hollered, “sexy!,” “bless you, Mami” and “Hey baby!” at Roberts. When she didn’t respond, one man blasted, ‘You don’t talk?!”

The group is working with the MTA and has visited schools to spread the word about ending street harassment, May said.

“Hollaback! created the video as a “viral tool to support advocates, legislators, citizens, and victims in their fight to raise awareness and end street harassment worldwide,” according to the organisation.

The aftermath

Following the release of the video, Roberts started receiving rape threats online, Hollaback said.
The clip went viral, triggering a mixed reaction on YouTube and Twitter, as well as prompting female users to share their experience of what they said was misogyny and harassment.

Roberts even received rape threats online, sparking the company to send out this tweet:

“The rape threats indicate that we are hitting a nerve,” Hollaback director Emily May told Newsday. “We want to do more than just hit a nerve though, we want New Yorkers to realize – once and for all – that street harassment isn’t OK, and that as a city we refuse to tolerate it.”

A look at the 28,000 plus comments there, and on various social networking sites, offers a glimpse into the robust — and often troubling — debate around street harassment.

Among the more common threads are whether some of the more innocuous comments (variations of “hello,” “good morning” or “hi beautiful”) actually constitute harassment.

There’s also been conversation around the race and ethnicity of the men in the video, with some questioning why there were almost no white men shown harassing Roberts.

Copycats and parodies

On October 30th, Funny or Die posted a parody video in which a white man is shown receiving praise and special treatment while walking around New York City.

On the same day, YouTuber Shinji72 uploaded a parody video featuring non-player characters interacting with a female avatar walking around the role-playing gameSkyrim. In 24 hours, the video gathered upwards of 383,000 views and 500 comments.

A Star Wars parody also notched up over 2 million views within a fortnight:

In addition, more serious videos cropped up showing similar cases of harassment. For example, this video exposed the abuse a gay man suffers while walking around Manhattan.

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