It normally starts out as a bit of a laugh. One person comes up with a daft idea, such as soaking themselves with freezing water and ice-cubes and then posting it online. It’s simple, straightforward fun that can raise money for charity.
Sometimes challenges are a bit edgier, such as swallowing a spoonful of cinnamon. More often than not, this leaves people gagging and at worst, vomming all over the place. Gross.
However, there are some social media crazes that aren’t as entertaining.
For all the benefits of social media, some web-based fads are receiving high levels of exposure that are only encouraging people to have a go at them themselves. Before the likes of Facebook and Twitter, teenagers had no platform to show the world the silly stunts that they had just performed, meaning the biggest audience they’d get would be their gang of friends – unlike today, where within minutes, a video of their exploits can be uploaded to the web for all to see.
At the end of April, a 13-year-old girl from France went missing for three days. When she eventually turned up at the family home, she refused to tell her parents or the police where she’d been; only revealing that she’d completed a Facebook dare to disappear for 72 hours. Last year, the NekNominate challenge took the web by storm, as challengers downed a pint of their tipple of choice, often with disastrous consequences.
Just last month, a teenager in Ayrshire was hospitalised after he took a large quantity of paracetamol tablets. It is believed he was taking part in the Paracetamol Challenge – a game where young people dare each other, through the likes of Instagram and Facebook, to take excessive amounts of the painkiller and post content of themselves taking the drug. Overdosing on paracetamol can lead to a range of side effects; from nausea and sickness, to permanent liver damage and fluid on the brain. Not so funny now, is it?
Since the issue came to light, the hashtag for the game has been hijacked by users warning just how dangerous the drug can be – an illustration of how social media being used for the better. Some have had personal experiences from the danger the challenge poses, with one Twitter user writing: “My sister died from taking too much paracetamol – kids don’t do it.” Another wrote of her personal experience, stating: “I have liver damage at 18 years old from paracetamol overdoses, the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life.”
Even dabbling in the satanic has been popular, with The Charlie Charlie Challenge encouraging users to connect with a dead Mexican spirit named Charlie. Players draw a cross with four quadrants on a piece of paper, and label two quadrants “no” and the two quadrants “yes”. With pencils overlapping in the middle of the paper, players begin by asking Charlie if he is there, followed by the question they want answered. The pencils are then believed to move towards one of the quadrants. The trend grew through the popularity of a YouTube video entitled Jugando Charly Charlie, based on a game called Juego de la Lapicera (Game of the Pens) which is played in Spanish-speaking countries. The hashtag #CharlieCharlieChallenge has been tweeted more than 2 million times, again showing the power of social media. Some psychologists believe that playing the game dramatically raises anxiety levels, particularly in teenagers who try to prove themselves in a type of “rite of passage” ritual.
Useful v. useless
We all do stupid things. This has been happening since time began, and just a part of growing up. At 11 years old, my friend discovered how flammable toilet paper was when he lit one end of a bog roll with a scented candle that was happily making the family bathroom smell fresh. Unfortunately the bathroom ended up reeking of burnt linoleum after he dropped the flaming Andrex roll on the floor at the shock of the speed with which the flames consumed the silky sheets. 15 years later, I’ve seen neither a candle nor an Andrex toilet paper in his house.
Thankfully, my pal has learnt his lesson, and the world didn’t witness his stupidity online. Social media continues to be a great medium where people can share thoughts, debate with one another and interact with people from the other side of the world. But there is a line that splits healthy, useful engagement, and brainless activity that not only endangers the lives of those carrying out risky stunts, but pressurises others to take part in them.
Enjoy social media. Laugh at the daft “nights out” selfies. Share that video of a cat on a Roomba. Raise awareness on issues that you’re passionate about. Just be mindful of online peer pressure and the dangers which some of these seemingly innocent stunts come with, that can often result in heartbreak for friends and broken families.