In 2019, it seems that people will go to life-altering lengths to become a social media sensation. But with millions of videos entering the media stream daily, how does one distinguish themselves from the masses? Currently, the answer to this digital age question has proven to be risky, dangerous, and occasionally fatal; it seems modern teens are literally dying to go viral.
The year 2018 experienced the largest uptick in unsafe social media challenges ever seen before. These challenges consist of Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook users putting themselves in grave danger while filming a video with the hope of going viral or making the trending page. The rule of thumb for these challenges is the riskier, the better.
However, these crazes did not begin in 2018, nor are they likely to die down by 2020; this ferocious craving to become viral through self-harming has had a clear progression beginning with the infamous Cinnamon Challenge all the way back in 2006. Partakers in this challenge would eat a generous spoonful of cinnamon in one minute without the help from any liquids. In the best scenarios, the challenge resulted in an inability to breathe properly for a few seconds, however some disastrous videos took a nasty turn when the users began to gag, barf, or choke on the powder.
Quite a few people were devastatingly lost as a result of the Cinnamon Challenge. Matthew Radar–a young boy from Kentucky–died after attempting to eat two whole spoonfuls of cinnamon without water. According to his mother, his body seized up after choking on the cinnamon in his lungs and he died while being rushed to the hospital. A thirteen-year-old boy was put in a five-day coma after attempting to do the challenge in front of his friends at a party. While these are extreme examples, the Cinnamon Challenge videos that actually went viral were not the ones where everything turned out alright; the videos that have millions of views are ones like these with messy endings.
The trends of 2006 look almost naive though in comparison to the short-lived yet deadly challenges of the past year. Now, in order to make waves on the internet people are poisoning, choking, or setting themselves on fire, proving that the days of freak accidents with challenges are far behind us.
The Tide Pod challenge is a prime example of the caliber of 2018 crazes, wherein which teens ingest tide pods (essentially poisoning themselves) and then wait on camera for the detergents chemicals to take effect. This challenge not only resulted in more than a few deaths but it also severely hurt the laundry detergent company, who had to sit back and watch #DoItForTheGram teens eat their product.
Worse still, The 2018 Fire Challenge had teens covering themselves in flammable liquids and then legitimately lighting parts of their body on fire in an attempt to be seen on the trending page. The Kylie Jenner lip challenge in 2014 left thousands of kids with severe bruising around their lips, the recent Bird Box Challenge had people walking into oncoming traffic while blindfolded, the condom challenge drowned quite a few users when the condom filled with water refused to pop, the Kiki Challenge involved people hopping in and out of moving vehicles, and The Choking Game/Pass-Out Challenge is self-explanatory in its potential risks.
While there is no end in sight for these harmful challenges, it’s important to recognize that what these “clout chasers” are after is more of an idyllic fantasy than a possible outcome.
Take the yodeling kid from Walmart as an example. This boy was the catalyst for a far less harmful 2018 challenge of singing in a public, quiet place while wearing an outlandish costume. The video of the boy yodeling went so viral that he appeared on the hit talk show, Ellen and even performed at the Coachella Music Festival. But do we even remember his name? Where is he now?
The reward for teens putting themselves in danger is 10 seconds of fame before someone else does something even more dangerous and stupid. This cyclical ritual of posting something dangerous and then moving on to something even riskier will only be stopped when the hype around these challenges dies down. We can say the people who do these challenges are “clout chasers,” “products of a #DoItForTheGram generation,” or just downright stupid but until we stop causing these videos to go viral, we are complicit in the harm and death of these people.
If these trends do not stop what will people do to go viral in a month or a year?