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The Free Hugs Campaign is an Internet meme that appears to have begun in 20041, and was widely publicized in 2006 by a music video. It involves individuals who offer hugs to strangers in public settings. The campaign is an example of a random act of kindness, a selfless act performed by someone for the sole reason of making others feel better.
A video on YouTube was released on September 22, 2006, and by December 2006, had gained over 18 million views.2 According to the video summary, it was recorded in Sydney. In the video, the main character who is giving out hugs, (identified as "Juan Mann", a pseudonym),3 walks through the Pitt Street Mall holding up a sign with the words FREE HUGS written on it. Music for the video is provided by Sick Puppies, an Australian band that Mann met a year earlier.1 Shimon Moore, the lead singer of the Sick Puppies who worked at the mall, shot the footage which he later compiled into a video for the song.1
Initial distrust of Juan's motives eventually gave way to a gradual increase of people willing to be hugged, with other huggers (male and female) helping distribute them. After some time, security guards, then police told them they must stop, as Mann had not obtained public liability insurance worth $25 million for his actions.3 Mann and his companions used a petition to attempt to convince authorities that his campaign should be allowed to continue without the insurance. His petition reached 10,000 signatures, and he submitted it and was allowed to continue giving free hugs.
Publicity and expansion
- In the video Juan Mann is interviewed by reporter Angela Bishop from Ten News.
- The video clip has received a largely positive reaction on YouTube, with over 45,000 ratings at an average of 4 out of 5 stars, and over 17 million page views, over 26,000 comments and has been favorited over 79,000 times (as of April, 2007), making it the 10th most viewed video on the site. The video clip was voted "Most Inspirational" in a YouTube poll released on March 27, 2007. 4
- A college student, Yu Tzu-wei, began a campaign in Taipei in October 2006 to "hug everyone in Taiwan".5
- My Chemical Romance vocalist Gerard Way and rhythm guitarist Frank Iero were seen wearing signs bearing the phrase "FREE HUGS" around their necks while they performed on several tour dates on the 2005 Warped Tour.
- A mass "free hugs" day was scheduled at Pitt Street Mall for the New South Wales Labour Day (October 1, 2006) following the massive YouTube and media coverage.6
- In late October 2006 several Free Hugs Campaigns were organized in a number of cities in Italy.7
- On October 27, 2006 students from Illinois-based McKendree College were featured in news media, including MLB.com, for giving free hugs before game five of the World Series in front of Busch Stadium.8
- On October 30, 2006, "Mann" was invited by Oprah Winfrey to appear on her show Oprah after her producer's doctor saw the Free Hugs video on YouTube. Juan Mann made an appearance outside her studio that morning, offering free hugs to the crowd waiting to see the taping of that day's episode. Oprah's camera crews caught several people in the audience hugging Mann as the morning progressed.9
- On November 4, 2006, a new video entry was added to YouTube by Juan Mann thanking the people that watched the video for their positive response to his video as well as the support they've shown, in addition to starting Free Hugs campaigns in other countries. Mann took the opportunity to promote the launch of a charity initiative founded by himself and Shimon Moore called Free Help, intended to cut out the middle man by allowing dedicated good Samaritans to render any assistance they can to those in need. This charity is no longer active.
- On November 6, 2006 a group of eleven people led by a twenty-four year old man named 'Baigu' tried the same campaign in Shanghai, only to be detained for one hour for not having a permit to hold a gathering in a public place.10
- A Free Hugs event on November 10, 2006 in Boulder, Colorado was covered by local media.11
- In Belgium the Free Hugs campaign appeared near the end of 2006, with Free Hugs events on December 22 and December 23 in Antwerp and on December 30 in Ghent.1213
- On November 18, 2006 Geneva Online, an online community, organized the first Free Hugs event in Geneva, Switzerland.14
- The Free Hugs creators were interviewed by WHO.com.15
- On November 25, 2006, two friends in Chicago had a Free Hugs outing, and persuaded the police to join in the hugging.16. On December 10, 2006, the same people, Amber Gribben and Nicholas Markos, along with additional friends, had another Free Hugs outing in downtown Chicago. They were found by a Fox News Chicago crew, who featured a report about them.17 Proceeds from the sale of downloads of the song ("Gimme All You Got" by bee) used in the first video are being donated to UNICEF.
- On December 24, 2006, two Korean boy students in Singapore were featured in the local national newspaper, The Straits Times, for their 'free hugs' campaign started on November 22, outside Ngee Ann City shopping mall along Orchard Road. In a novel bid to spread the festive cheer, they had this campaign for the following consecutive Saturdays.
- A group of undergraduates who met on the PTT BBS started a Free Hugs movement in the Kaohsiung, Taiwan Urban Spotlight Arcade on January 28, 2007.19
- As part of an initiative to combat discrimination against people infected with AIDS or HIV, the French Government will call on its citizens to embrace strangers who hoist signs in the street offering free hugs.20
- In their latest series, the Australian comedy team The Chaser released a parody video, called "Free Feel ups", "Free Wedgie", "Free Root", and "Free Sign."
- On April 14, 2007, Portuguese waitress Sara Viera living in Newcastle Upon-Tyne, England was reported on both BBC News and local press to be giving Free Hugs in the streets of Newcastle City Centre.