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The Free Hugs Campaign is an international social movement built around the individual or group practice of offering hugs to strangers in public places with no strings attached. This random act of kindness went viral after appearing in a music video for the Australian rock band Sick Puppies, leading to thousands of videos depicting people offering free hugs uploaded to YouTube from supporters around the world.
In May 2004, the New York Times reported that financial analyst Jayson Littman (shown below, left) had begun offering free hugs in New York City’s Washington Square Park for three hours every Sunday for a month. Though Littman was advertising with a hand-lettered sign and a tee-shirt, the reporter noted the number of rejections that he received. The following month, on June 20th, 2004, an Australian man known by the pseudonym Juan Mann (shown below, right) began his Free Hugs campaign in Sydney’s Pitt Street Mall. It is unclear if he knew about Littman’s campaign. After 15 minutes of standing in the mall with a cardboard sign, he received his first hug from an elderly woman. He continued to return to the mall every Thursday, gradually gaining supporters and expanding his hugs throughout the city, until officials banned him due to the lack of public liability insurance worth $25 million dollars. After getting 10,000 people to sign a petition in his favor, he was allowed to continue offering hugs throughout Sydney.
Sick Puppies Video
In September 2004, Mann met Shimon Moore of the Australian rock band, Sick Puppies. He filmed some of Mann’s hugging excursions, but did not do anything with the footage until 2006 after the band had moved to Los Angeles. When Moore learned that Mann’s grandmother had passed away, he wanted to do something to ease his friend’s pain. He made the short film for Mann overnight and mailed him a hard copy. On September 22nd, 2006, at the request of his bandmates, Moore uploaded the video to YouTube where it gained 250,000 views in two days. As of April 2013, it has amassed more than 74 million views.
Sick Puppies reuploaded the video to their MySpace page on September 23rd, causing many of the social networking site’s users to discuss and repost the video themselves. On September 27th, 2006, the video was reposted to humor site I Am Bored, where it has gained an additional 63,000 views. On October 3rd, 2006, FreeHugsCampaign.org launched, offering a message board where people could organize their local campaigns. Following the site launch, the video as well as information about the campaign spread across a number of personal blogs including SOC and Chief Happiness Officer. One of the earliest videos depicting someone giving out free hugs in another country was uploaded to YouTube on October 17th, 2006 by Jinwoo Shin of Seoul, South Korea. As of April 2013, it has nearly 2.8 million views.
By the end of October, Mann had gained much notoriety online, leading to an appearance on Oprah to discuss his campaign. In November 2006. a group of people organized a free hugs campaign in Shangai, China. However, after 20 minutes, 11 participants and several journalists were detained by police after failing to obtain a permit to hold an event in a public place.
As of April 2013, there are more than 280,000 search results for “free hugs” on YouTube, including both parody videos and free hugs events in other countries.
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