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‘Do it for the views!’

The dangers of viral challenges

  • 2 min to read

Viral challenges have become commonplace. While they can generate interactions between social media users, these challenges can pose harmful consequences for those who partake in them.

In light of the recent Tide Pod Challenge, it is important to understand the potential danger of following trends and valuing views over personal and public safety.

The Tide Pod Challenge and its predecessors  

The Tide Pod Challenge was given its spotlight in social spheres through television exposure in January 2018, according to Snopes. In this challenge, one would record themselves biting into a Tide Pod and upload the video to various streaming sites like YouTube.

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), misusing laundry packets can result in serious consequences such as “seizures … respiratory arrest, coma, and even death.” In 2016 and 2017, the AAPCC reported having “handled thirty-nine and fifty-three cases of intentional exposures, respectively …” among the teenage population.

The Tide Pod Challenge is not the first viral phenomenon to pose health risks. The AAPCC also issued a press release in 2012 about the Cinnamon Challenge, which required participants to swallow a spoonful of cinnamon. In the release, the AAPCC describes potential health risks including “gagging, vomiting, coughing, choking and throat irritation,” and mentions that “teens with asthma or other respiratory conditions are at greater risk of respiratory distress, including shortness of breath and trouble

Stop it, and get some help

With obvious health dangers, one would think such challenges would not have become popular in the first place. Yet, these harmful activities continue to make their way onto social media with some videos garnering almost 2 million views.

For University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa freshman Keala-Mae Pomaikai, the reason behind these dangerous challenges becoming popular may lie within an internal problem: the constant need for validation from views.

“[P]eople of today are always competing with ‘viral challenge[s]’ … always trying to one-up each other,” Pomaikai said.“The competition and the glory of performing something so drastic that everyone talks about it or retweets it is like a high. Somewhere along the lines, people have come to the conclusion that more harmful means more viewers ...”

An unfortunate truth to this is that people do tune into shows or clips that portray dangerous acts. An example of this is “Jackass,” a television and movie series that subjected its cast to a plethora of dangerous activities like playing tetherball with a beehive and testing riot control weapons. Even with the amount of pain portrayed, the show “ranks as one of MTV's highest rated programs,” despite it being cancelled.

The difference between “Jackass” and real life, however, is that the cast had medical assistance while doing stunts. Your average citizen will most likely not have immediate help available while partaking in such challenges, thus risking more serious health consequences.

Some, but not all

Despite the negative consequences that come with certain viral challenges, one must not forget to note the advantages of them, especially when it comes to getting views.

Viral challenges can raise awareness for issues that should get more exposure, such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which consists of people dumping buckets of iced water onto themselves and nominating others to do so to bring more attention toward Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a disease “that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord,” according to the ALS Association.  

If someone partakes in the ALS Challenge with the desire to gain views, it is not necessarily a negative thing. Doing so can garner millions of views and could be doing society a lot of good by furthering the reach of the challenge’s message.

To an extent, even dangerous challenges like the Tide Pod Challenge and Cinnamon Challenge can promote discussion between media users.

“[C]hallenges such as the Tide Pod Challenge or the Cinnamon Challenge bring people together by talking about their own experiences on it,” Pomaikai said. “Even by asking others opinions of those challenges allows for communications and relationships to be made.”

Bottom line: Do not do it for the Vine

Viral challenges can be great mediums of social interaction until they becomes dangerous. With cases like the Tide Pod Challenge, people should realize the dangers of it and refuse to participate, especially if one’s intention is to get views or one-up others. Feeling the need to be better than another challenge participant echoes an internal issue, like a lack of self-esteem or identity, and should be dealt with offline.

One million likes or views on YouTube or Instagram is never a sound compromise for safety, no matter the circumstance.