(ABC News)–When 21-year-old rap artist Ervin McKinness died in a car accident this
fall, his fans were quick to notice one final message from his Twitter
account: “Drunk af going 120 drifting corners #F***It YOLO.”
Less than an hour later, the driver of the car ran a red light, lost
control and slammed into a wall, according to Ontario, Calif. police.
Four passengers were pronounced dead at the scene. A fifth died at the
“What is YOLO?” was among the top searches in the United States this
year, according to Google, but Twitter users certainly know what it is.
It stands for You Only Live Once. According to Topsy, a
Twitter analytics company, about 36.6 million tweets have included the
YOLO acronym since it first appeared in October 2011 — and a good
percentage of them involved young people doing something dangerous or
Over roughly three hours one morning last week, 34 people tweeted about
the prior night's drunken antics with the YOLO acronym, an ABC News
search found. A handful of YOLO-ers asked whether it was too early in
the day to start drinking. Another 10 woke up that morning and tweeted
that they didn't study for tests they had to take. Their tweets all
included YOLO, or, as a Twitter hashtag, #YOLO.
“It was probably the most popular phrase on Twitter, I think,” said
Jamie de Guerre, the vice president of product at Topsy. He said Twitter
users tweeted the #YOLO hashtag 388,000 times a day at the peak of its
popularity in March. It's still used tens of thousands of times a day
Since the YOLO trend began, about 408,000 YOLO-tagged tweets had
something to do with “texting while driving,” according to Topsy.
Trumpeting dangerous behavior is part-biological, part-environmental, Romano said.
Romano said the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which is
involved in reasoning and planning, doesn't fully develop until someone
is about 25 years old. And while the reasoning part of the brain is
undeveloped, the thrill-seeking part of the brain thrives.
“In terms of why teens make risky decisions, there's biological evidence,” Romano said.
A 2010 study showed that teens were more likely to make poor driving
decisions when they were in cars with other teens, proving what mom, dad
and insurance companies have known for years, Romano said. And the
near-constant connectedness that comes with Twitter, which many users
have installed on their phones, means that teens are rarely alone
No one has researched whether Twitter causes risky behavior, so it's not
possible to conclude that YOLO has actually contributed to risk-taking,
said anthropologist Jordan Kraemer, who recently earned her doctorate
from the University of California, Irvine.
“Generally, social media provides a new venue for actions that are often
the same kinds of actions both young people and adults are already
engaging in,” Kraemer said.”It's hard to know if what we're seeing
online is causing new or more risky behavior or if we're just seeing it
more because it's more visible.”
“It's not just the act of doing it, it's the act of announcing it
publically,” Gershon said. “For some people, it's really fun to lie
about risky behavior. They get to see what a certain kind of response
would mean without actually doing it.”
Gershon wrote a book about how Facebook affects relationships. She is
now researching how people create personas on Twitter tailored to
landing certain jobs.
“People constantly believe other people's profiles, and admitted to me a great deal to which they lie on their own,” she said.
Canadian pop artist Drake coined the acronym in a song called “The
Motto.” YOLO's popularity online began in California last October
before spreading to Florida and Texas, up the East Coast and then to the
rest of the country, according to Google Trends, which maps search term popularity over time.
According to Topsy, other YOLO Twitter trends included dialing a random telephone number and wearing or not wearing knee pads.
Eventually, Twitter users started reminding the YOLO crowd that they
didn't have horcruxes, the soul fragments that Voldemort thought would
make him immortal in the Harry Potter series. About 304,000 tweets
contained both the terms YOLO and horcruxes.
Copyright 2012 by ABC News