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TEDxSummerisle sounds real but isn’t

This fictional conference gave a convincing performance on social media yesterday.


Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Internet Culture

In its 29-year history, TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) has shared “ideas worth spreading” through two annual conferences, a robust online archive of TED Talks, and a series of independently organized TEDx events at cities around the world.

And now it seems there’s even a TED conference taking place in a completely fictional location. 

TEDxSummerisle appeared on Twitter last week, alongside a Tumblr account promoting the Summerisle TED conference. Since Summerisle is the imaginary Scottish island depicted in 1973 horror movie The Wicker Man, it’s not entirely surprising that it doesn’t appear on the official TED website. 

Image via TEDxSummerisle/Tumblr

At first, the TEDxSummerisle Twitter and Tumblr accounts seemed like a charmingly weird one-shot parody of TED culture. Both accounts were mostly inactive until March 15, at which point they began promoting the conference taking place on March 20—the spring equinox, as celebrated by the “real” inhabitants of Summerisle in The Wicker Man. TEDxSummerisle’s Tumblr even posted a worryingly real-sounding conference schedule, including talks such as “Historian Rose MacGreagor will reveal The Secret Science of the Ancients.” 

But on March 20, all bets were off. Whoever created these parody accounts must have done some serious planning, because if Twitter is anything to go by, TEDxSummerisle is actually real. The official Twitter account gave every impression of livetweeting from an actual event, including photos of slides from the various talks. Not only that, but people on the #TEDxSummerisle tag were commenting on the talks as they happened. 

There are even a few single-serving Twitter accounts for speakers at the conference, such as Jenny Lassiter, who apparently delivered a talk called “As Above, So Below: The Emergence of Cross-Species Communal Behavior.” 

The genius of TEDxSummerisle lies in its dedication to the buzzword-strewn language of TED conferences. Quotes like “Gamification incentivises ritual. And ritual binds healthy communities together” seem completely plausible. Of course, if you’ve ever seen The Wicker Man, you’ll know that Summerisle’s “gamification” of “community ritual” mainly involves putting on animal masks and chasing visitors around the island before burning them alive as a pagan sacrifice. Unfortunately, many of the TEDxSummerisle attendees seemed unaware that the “final community event” of the conference might involve just that. 

As TEDxSummerisle drew to a close, things grew increasingly ominous. Attendees began to realise that maybe this wasn’t an official TED conference after all. 

While some of the speakers were ritually murdered by the Summerisle inhabitants, others escaped out into the night. The #TEDxSummerisle hashtag transformed from a cheery livestream of the conference topics to a text-only version of a found-footage horror movie, with the @TEDxSummerisle operator and various TED speakers trying desperately to escape the island. 

Spectators callously retweeted pleas for help as the remaining survivors fled across the island and posted Blair Witch Project-style Vines of the Summerisle forests. In a scene mirroring The Wicker Man, TEDxSummerisle finally ended with its guests being rounded up into a giant wicker statue and burned alive, still tweeting to the last. 

Oh, and if you see anyone tweeting about calling emergency services to help these people out, it might be a good idea to explain that TEDxSummerisle isn’t actually real

Photo via Wickerfurniture/Flickr

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