On Friday night, the French national soccer team was about 15 minutes into a friendly match against Germany in the Stade de France when a suicide attacker detonated his vest. The bomber reportedly had a ticket to the game and triggered his explosives after a security guard discovered them while frisking him. Three minutes later, a second attacker also blew himself up outside the stadium; by the end of the night, 129 people had been killed in a series of coordinated terror attacks across Paris.
The most widely distributed documentation of the first of those attacks was a six-second clip posted by Terje Haavin, a 22-year-old soccer fan from Tromsø, Norway. Within a day Haavin’s video had become the most-viewed ever on the site. At 138 million loops, it surpassed Duck Army, the previous ruler of the all-time list, which took several weeks to get there. The clip became a centerpiece in the early coverage of the Paris attacks for major news organizations around the world. At one point on Friday evening, the video’s view count was going up by at least 100,000 loops every refresh.
Vine was founded in June of 2012 and snapped up by Twitter less than six months later as a simple way for users to integrate video into their postings. Its six-second time limit may seem constraining, but users have found ways to make the platform a showcase for everything from stop-motion animation to bite-size comedy routines. Lightweight, easy to use, and quick to load, Vine found much of its success with teenagers and young adults, who made use of its low-threshold, tossed-off qualities in endless short, meme-based skits and pranks.
Vine is also great for sports highlights, which is what Haavin primarily uses his Vine account for. “I was watching the game to keep an eye on the Arsenal players playing for France,” Haavin told New York in an instant message exchange. “I always record matches to post goals and highlights on Twitter in case something interesting comes up.” After he heard the first reports of the events outside the stadium, he isolated the moment when TV viewers could hear the explosion and quickly threw it up on Vine and Twitter without a second thought. Typically, he adds a watermark with his Twitter handle to any videos he posts — but, in this case, doing so seemed wrong. “The Vine from the Stade de France is the only video I haven’t given myself credit on,” he said. “I felt it would be inappropriate to direct attention towards me given the terrible events that happened in Paris.”
Haavin even confessed to being a bit uncomfortable with the record his video had set. “I’m a bit sad to overtake Duck Army — I think it’s a funny and very original idea,” he said. “I feel like my video is in a very different category.”
There’s no question that is true. Vine may be best known for a video of a bin of rubber ducks honking, but the same things that make it so appealing to teenage pranksters and meme distributors make it perfect for breaking news. With a Vine, there is no such thing as telling readers to skip to a certain time stamp in order to get to the important part. It’s a perfect way to put observers in a snippet of the action. Videos on Vine are lightweight, with the average falling somewhere between 600kb and 1mb. This means they load quickly when embedded in pages and play easily even in situations where there is low bandwidth or a bad connection. And, unlike YouTube or some media organizations’ proprietary players, there’s no pre-roll advertising on Vine — you get served exactly what you want, quickly. (Vine also has a reputation for being more relaxed about copyright: Haavin says he chose Vine over YouTube in part because YouTube has “a much more strict copyright takedown policy.”)
Like many others, Haavin sees Vine playing a key role in how people experience major events — even world-changing ones. “Vine can be used for so much,” he said. “I’m glad news has a place in it, too.”