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Free Hugs CampaignThe Free Hugs Campaign is a social movement involving individuals who offer hugs to strangers in public places. The hugs are meant to be random acts of kindness—selfless acts performed just to make others feel better. International Free Hugs Month is celebrated on the first Saturday of July and continues until August first. The campaign in its present form was started in 2004 by an Australian man known only by the pseudonym "Juan Mann". The campaign became famous internationally in 2006 as the result of a music video on YouTube by the Australian band Sick Puppies, which has been viewed over 78 million times as of April 16, 2019.
HistoryThe Free Hugs campaign in its present form was started by Juan Mann on June 30, 2004, when he began giving out hugs in the Pitt Street Mall in central Sydney. In the months prior to this, Mann had been feeling depressed and lonely as a result of numerous personal difficulties. However, a random hug from a stranger made an enormous difference, with Mann stating that "...I went out to a party one night and a completely random person came up to me and gave me a hug. I felt like a king! It was greatest thing that ever happened." Mann carried the now iconic "FREE HUGS" sign from the outset. However, on his first attempt in his hometown, where he returned to find that he was the only person he knew, as his friends and family had moved away, he had to wait fifteen minutes before an elderly lady came up to him and gave him a hug. A person holding up a "Free Hugs" sign in Sydney, Australia, in 2004 Initial distrust of Juan Mann's motives eventually gave way to a gradual increase of people willing to be hugged, with other huggers (male and female) helping distribute them. In October 2005 police told them they must stop, as Mann had not obtained public liability insurance worth $25 million for his actions. 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. He submitted it and was allowed to continue giving free hugs. Mann befriended Shimon Moore, then-lead singer for Sick Puppies, shortly after commencing his campaign, and over a two-month period in late 2005 Moore recorded video footage of Mann and his fellow huggers. Moore and his band moved to Los Angeles in March 2005 and nothing was immediately done with the footage. Meanwhile, Mann continued his campaign throughout 2005 and 2006 by appearing in Pitt Street Mall in Sydney most Thursday afternoons. In mid-2006 Mann's grandmother died, and in consolation Moore made the music video using the footage he had shot in 2004 to send to Mann as a gift, stating in an interview that, "I sent it to him on a disc as a present and I wrote down 'This is who you are'." The video was later uploaded onto YouTube, where it has been viewed 74 million times as of October 2013. 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. On October 23, 2007, Juan Mann announced his residential address online and offered an open invitation to anyone to come over and chat on-camera as part of his 'open-house project'. Mann hosted 80 guests over 36 days. On November 25, 2007, Mann's landlord threatened him with eviction, so he launched an online appeal. On December 25, 2007, Juan Mann published an e-book as a free download. On November 22, 2008, at YouTube Live Sick Puppies did a performance of "All the Same" while Juan Mann gave hugs to crowd members. On February 13, 2009 a Free Hug Day took place. Free hugs signs were also commonly seen at Phish shows at least as early as 1996. A website that is generally recognized as the official site of the free hugs campaign, The Official Home of the Free Hugs Campaign, was launched in mid-2007. This site enables those involved in the campaign to better organize themselves and coordinate their efforts. Many initiatives resulted from these efforts. For example, on the website's forum (hosted on Dragon Arts), those involved in the campaign called for an annual International Free Hugs Day. Mann declared that the day would fall on the first Saturday following June 30 each year; this being the first date that Mann ever offered free hugs in Pitt Street Mall, Sydney in 2004. The first International Free Hugs Day was July 7, 2007, the second on July 5, 2008, and the third was on July 4, 2009. (See above regarding Valentine's Day). Mann's Official Blog remained dormant after his apparent retirement but has been updated at times; it proclaims itself as the "true home" of the Free Hugs Campaign and hosts interviews conducted with individuals holding Free Hugs Campaigns internationally. In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, two men were arrested by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice for offering free hugs in a public space. The move was criticized on Twitter; however, others opposed the campaign altogether.
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