As founder of BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post, Jonah Peretti is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in viral marketing. In 2006, Peretti launched BuzzFeed as an internet experiment that leveraged emerging technologies to track online social behavior and cultivate viral media for an audience that was getting bigger each day. Presently, the billion-dollar media company generates billions of monthly content views from around the globe. Prior to BuzzFeed, in 2005 Peretti launched The Huffington Post along with friends Ariana Huffington, Ken Lerer, and Andrew Breitbart. For his pioneering work, the internet entrepreneur has been called "the poster boy of guerilla media" by AlterNet and a "computer-whiz" by The New Yorker, and his groundbreaking endeavors have been covered by such major outlets as Time, the Economist, and Fortune. Born in 1974, Peretti received his degree in environmental studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He began his professional career teaching computer science to sixth graders in New Orleans before deciding it was time to find a suitable graduate program.
In 1999, Peretti headed to Cambridge, Massachusetts to study at the prestigious MIT Media Lab. There, Peretti was studying educational technology because he was interested in how new developing technologies could influence and improve learning. It was during this time that Peretti first started grappling with the questions of how ideas spread, why people share things in the first place, and also the media industry in general.
According to campus lore, rather than working on his master’s thesis, Peretti decided to do a little procrastinating one day. At the time, the shoe giant Nike had just started promoting a new customizable sneaker. Peretti ordered a pair of Nike shoes imprinted with the word "sweatshop," prompting an amusing exchange of e-mails with a customer service representative, which ultimately resulted in him appearing on national TV six weeks later to debate Nike's labor practices. "Even though I didn't know anything about sweatshops or labor issues, I ended up on the Today Show debating the issue with Nike's head of global PR and Katie Couric moderating," Peretti told Insider in 2017.
Ultimately, the viral Nike email put Peretti in contact with the same people with whom he started The Huffington Post later on, thus setting up his momentous career. Despite never receiving his Nike “sweatshop” shoes, in 2001, Peretti did earn his Master's Degree from the MIT Media Lab. As a prime candidate for future alumni awards and recognitions, Peretti remains strongly connected to the MIT community, and continues to be regarded in various university publications.