Whether you like it or not, ‘going viral’ is an experience most online-dwellers run the risk of being subjected to at any random moment. Sure, sometimes it goes well – but as my mate Brok Neilsen found out, sometimes it can go very, very badly.
Brok was browsing the aisles of his local Woolworths on the Gold Coast when trumpets sounded/ clouds parted/ angels appeared to reveal a very cute brunette loitering in front of the mushrooms. Enamoured, Brok quickly snapped a photo of her before she walked away, in the hope one of his friends might recognise “Mushroom Girl” and he could take her on a date.
Brok pledged to return to the mushroom aisle at the same time every night in the hope she would come back and meet him. She didn’t.
Brok's good friend Blake then decided to ramp things up by reposting the image with the playful hashtag, #HopeForBrok.
In an unexpected gust of internet wind, the photo was picked up and flung around the country, but the response was not all positive. Brok's being called a cyber stalker, a creep, and a coward.
So I decided to get in touch and set the story straight.
Hey Brok, I've known you for almost 10 years, and know fully well that you're a nice dude. But could you tell us a bit about yourself? To put a face behind the Mushroom Stalker name?
Well I'm 32 years old, currently working in events for my best friend Amar at Sass Management. On the side I also DJ, and drive for Uber as I have a little bit of debt.
My last long term relationship was over two years ago and I messed that up on my end, so it has been hard moving past it.
I finally decided two weeks ago that I felt like I was ready to get serious again.
Obviously the whole social media angle was not the way I had intended to find someone to settle down with, but if I've learnt one thing in life you take every chance as it comes.
This "Mushroom Girl" story is getting out of hand. How does it feel to be accused of 'cyber stalking'?
In my opinion it has been blown way out of proportion.I mean, the photo going viral is because everyone liked it. I still, now as of this moment, have not contacted her, and if she had wanted to avoid me she could have quite easily.
I was always upfront about what I was doing, and if asked would have ceased pursuit - which is what I have done as of last night when we were finally connected through her friend.
Do you feel like you were open about your intentions?
I was never anonymous or hiding behind the internet and I wanted to be found. The picture posted of her is half blurry and from far away if she didn't want to tell anybody she could have easily avoided any contact at all as we had so many women come forward or tag their friends that quite obviously no one knew for sure who it was.
We even had a beauty pageant contestant in town saying for sure it was her - even though she was clearly taller than the women I had seen!
What would you have done if you found her quietly on your own, without the media circus?
If she was single and into men, then I just simply would of wanted to sit down and have a chat. So possibly a coffee or something simple like that.
Aww, that's sweet. It seems like a lot of people have overreacted. In your eyes, what's the difference between a grand gesture of finding a super cute girl, and actual cyber stalking?
Not everyone actually....I have had a few messages from possible future lady interests, and even some messages of support coming in from as far as South Africa and Pakistan.
At the moment it seems if you want to get anyone's attention you have to go to social media. I've been with and heard of women that expect you to post about them when you're with them, to show everyone how much you love them.
In the past I have always preferred to keep my relationship gestures - grand or not - off the world wide web. I definitely should have kept it like that with this whole situation in hindsight as well.
But in the same instance it has marketed me as a single guy who is committed and determined. Either that or really committed to stalking...haha! You decide.
Watch Brok talk to Sunrise about #HopeForBrok below. (Post continues after video)
Do you blame Blake, your friend who put the pic on Facebook, for any of this? He must be feeling pretty bad.
Blake gave me the call originally about him posting it, after it had received a few likes.
I was unsure and we had a bit of a chat about it and felt like it would be some fun. At most all we really thought would happen was Woolworths would eventually take it down or respond and we could have a laugh.
He was feeling bad for me yesterday as the media outlets I was trying to utilise to find the woman in question started to twist the story I had to tell. We are all fine though. He's a great guy and has never left me behind to date. Given the original gesture was done out of a want to look after me how can I blame him.
Plus I took the photo.
Tell me about "Mushroom Girl". What was it that caught your eye?
It's funny, I actually had a previous love interest contact me last night saying, "Still searching for that ever elusive brunette pocket rocket." Apparently I am.
Going viral and being slammed by hundreds of strangers online seems to be a rite of passage these days. What has it been like being in the spotlight?
It was quite a lot yesterday, as I have a lot going on at work and at the same time outlets were calling the office, calling my number, Facebook messaging etc. Being slammed wasn't too bad and I guess it's to be expected these days.
As soon as you're in the spotlight people twist things for their own means. I actually found the hate quite funny as a lot of it is completely misguided, and at the same time it showed how much of a solid friendship base I have with a lot of friends and family coming to my support throughout the comments section and news articles.
It's one thing to be slammed, it's another to be slammed and have people you love and trust come to your defence. Great to know, even without a woman currently in my life, I am a part of something much bigger.
So we hear that you actually did get the chance to meet her. What happened?
Any last words?
I guess my final words would be even without the prospect of ever meeting the mystery brunette, I am still single and looking to meet someone. At some point I'd still have to believe there is some #HopeForBrok.
If hopeless romantic Brok sounds like your type, find him at: facebook.com/brok.neilsen