Harmless online trends have recently started taking a turn for the worst. Participating in viral challenges can be a fun way to feel like you’re part of an online community, but how far are people willing to go to fit in? Let’s take a closer look into where we should be drawing the line.
At their best, viral online challenges help raise awareness for illnesses, organizations, or minority groups. You may look like a fool doing them, but they’re (usually) not dangerous. Here’s our roundup of the most harmless, fun, and sometimes helpful online challenges.
I remember this one from childhood. I’d have friends over and we’d jump around my room avoiding the floor as if it were lava. This is exactly the same but can happen any time, anywhere. Instagram/Snapchat personalities Kevin Freshwater and Jahannah James started the trend and the internet followed suit. It’s gotten people all across the internet filming themselves scrambling up walls, jumping on shelves at grocery stores, and aside from maybe making a bit of a mess, innocently having fun and playing like kids.
Movember was not always an internet trend. It actually began at a small bar in Melbourne, Australia amongst a couple friends. In an effort to bring back the mustache they decided to see if they could get 30 other friends to grow out their own ‘stashes for the month of November. They decided to do it for a cause, because — why not, and dedicated their facial hair to men’s health and prostate cancer awareness, donating 10 Australian dollars per mo’. The catchphrase “are you man enough to be my man” followed suit and has now become an internationally recognized way to support men’s health for the month of November. Jump to 2019 (where if something isn’t on the internet, did it actually happen?) and Movember is a viral internet challenge, too. Besides being somewhat unsightly (I’m looking at the wispy prepubescent stashes out there) Movember is a fun and easy way to spread awareness for a good cause.
This challenge came about on Instagram and Twitter in 2014. The trend began with celebrities (because we obviously need famous people to tell us what’s cool) and soon spiraled into a campaign to raise money for cancer research. Women bore their bare faces across their social media accounts and nominated their friends to do the same. Again a harmless, easy trend to follow and all for a good cause.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Pour a bucket of ice over your head, on camera, and then challenge your friends to do the same. The trend was started in 2014 to raise funds and awareness for ALS, a disease that was previously not given the attention or research it deserved. That changed when it went viral globally and one of the world’s largest social media phenomenon. Around 17 million people uploaded challenge videos to Facebook, these videos were then watched by over 440 million people a total of 10 billion times. It’s now an annual event.
The mannequin challenge serves absolutely no purpose. But it’s fun and safe, so why not? Essentially you get a group of friends to freeze in positions (like mannequins) while taping them to the tune of Black Beatles by Rae Sremmurd.
Amidst these good-willed movements and trends lies the darker side of the internet where people subject themselves to pain and humiliation in order to follow a trend or get more views on their online profiles. Here are some of the most extreme and harmful online challenges.
Following the release of the Netflix original Bird Box, starring Sandra Bullock, the Bird Box challenge was born. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the film covers the story of a dystopian world where an unknown force terrorizes society. If you see the entity you are faced with your greatest fear and you die, so the characters are blindfolded for the majority of the movie. This includes when they’re driving. For some twisted reason, this morphed into an online challenge. Driving a vehicle blindfolded is not only dangerous to you but to everyone else on the road. This seems like it would be pretty obvious. Clearly, the dangers of this challenge have been overlooked and a 17-year-old girl in Utah crashed into another car while driving her pickup truck blindfolded. Thankfully no one was hurt. Netflix responded to the challenge with a statement on Twitter:
“Can’t believe I have to say this, but: PLEASE DO NOT HURT YOURSELVES WITH THIS BIRD BOX CHALLENGE. We don’t know how this started, and we appreciate the love, but Boy and Girl have just one wish for 2019 and it is that you not end up in a hospital due to memes.”
We can’t believe it either, Netflix.
Eating laundry detergent sounds like fun, right? WRONG. It actually sounds like the absolute worst. It’s pretty baffling that kids across the internet have started consuming Tide Pods for attention. When I first came across this “challenge” I fully thought it must be a joke, but alas people are actually, really, literally, eating toxic cleaning products. The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) even had to issue a press release against the act, with their bottom line being: DO NOT EAT TIDE PODS. I must agree.
This is actually the least harmful one out of all the crazy challenges, but nonetheless, shocking. It reminds me of the saltine challenge (a common cafeteria activity in middle school). There’s a claim that a person cannot eat more than six saltines in one minute. This is, in fact, true, and attempting to do so is unpleasant. But in middle school showing off bizarre skills can definitely get you in with the cool kids. The cinnamon challenge, however, consists of participants who are well out of middle school. Putting a spoon of cinnamon in your mouth and not coughing it out of all of your facial orifices has been proven impossible. Yet, it’s a viral trend. Videos of people sneezing up cinnamon have blown up the internet to the point that several health organizations had to issue warnings against the trend.
This one’s painful to watch. Clearly, a vast majority of the internet doesn’t know what condoms are made for. Let me tell you what they are absolutely not made for though: snorting. Please excuse the next sentence. Videos of teens snorting condoms and then proceeding to pull them out of their mouths became an internet trend in 2013. As if this wasn’t a horrifying enough way to repurpose a condom people went on to filling them with water and dropping them over their heads. A sure-fire way to suffocate.
This started off innocently enough: take a photo of yourself in “plank” position, on an unusual and amusing surface. But as we know, the internet always has to take it too far. Soon people were being seen planking with their heads in toilets, on seventh-floor balconies, on tigers and in the middle of busy streets. The trend became so dangerous to the point of anti-planking laws being created. This is why we can’t have nice things.
So what on earth is our problem, right? Why has our new digital society turned innocent and helpful challenges into life-threatening painful trends? How did we go from growing out facial hair to crashing cars?
The answer is actually pretty simple, the human desire to fit in and be a part of something. Communicating with people online makes us feel like we are in a community like we’re popular. Seeing likes and views rack up on a video does something funny to our self-esteem and if popping a spoon of cinnamon in your mouth will do the trick then why not?“Why not?” Because it’s dangerous. There’s nothing wrong with creating fun or sometimes shocking content online, but putting your life and health or that of others is not and should not ever be okay. The next time you’re thinking of participating in an online trend, consider the “why.” If it’s safe and for a good cause go ahead, but if it’s useless and harmful, I promise you the “likes” are not worth it.