El Monte is learning a tough lesson about the power of social media. The city’s decision to fire 13 lifeguards and a pool manager for producing a spoof video has become the source of online outrage and activism.

The video has gone viral since it was uploaded onto YouTube on Sunday, August 26 and so far has had more than 1.5 million views. However, most of the attention relating to the pool-side remake of Korean rapper PSY’s music video “Gangnam Style” came after city officials decided to fire everyone involved.

To protest their dismissal, a Facebook page was set-up and has attracted more than 15,000 supporters. Nearly 14,000 Facebook users are talking about it. And a Change.org petition was started and has been signed by 13,142 people.

Even the original artist, Korean rapper PSY, has come out against the city manager’s decision to fire everyone associated with the video.

It might look like a simple case of a local government enforcing a code of conduct for its employees; and perhaps in another age it would have been. But in the age of viral ‘memes’ and social media, the perceived over-reaction to an otherwise harmless video can make a once-anonymous city a source of international scorn.

The divisive issue of the 14 firings was front and center at a special city council meeting called on Friday to allow the lifeguards to tell their side of the story, and the public to weigh in. The issue arose again on Tuesday during the regular city council meeting.

For that meeting, the 14 had turned to their Facebook page to ask supporters to come to the meeting. At least one supporter responded that he was practicing and timing his remarks to make sure he could fit it all during the 3 minutes allotted to each speaker in public comment.

Others didn’t wait to comment publicly. A search of comments sent to the city via its ‘Contact Us’ form revealed some pretty telling comments:

El Monte city leaders were right about the city looking bad because of the lifeguard video. After firing them, you look like a city run by a*******. –Steven

What a bunch of a******* you are for firing them. Could have been a great win publicity wise to get more patrons at your pool. –Cliff

After viewing “the video” I’m at a loss as to how you could fire this great group of kids. They seem like good role models for children, they obviously enjoyed their jobs (how rare is that), and they liked each other. Did they do a good job at lifeguarding? It seems to me that you are searching for excuses to justify letting them go. Unapproved use of the city owned swim suits? Really? I just wish my workplace enjoyed the same comradery (sic) that is so evident in these ex employees. –Anonymous

The city’s Facebook Timeline does not allow posts or comments, however it easy to assume what would dominate their feed if they did.

The power of social media propelled these 14 individuals into internet stardom. A knee-jerk reaction of a city that failed to grasp the power of social media propelled it to infamy.

Now, the Mayor has asked a committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding the dismissals. It is a response that will come with all deliberate speed of local government in an age of instant-news and viral firestorms.