#Neknominate started out as a fun game, but when it went viral, it got dangerous. How can a social media game end up costing lives?
#neknominate became the biggest social trend to happen this year so far and what started out as a harmless bit of fun became something much more dangerous with five people in the UK dying after playing the nomination-based drinking game.
The game is said to have started in Australia, but quickly spread across the world via Facebook and became particularly popular with rugby players.
What’s The Story Behind #neknominate?
#neknominate is an online drinking game which involves the player downing a drink while recording themselves. The player then nominates two friends to do the same in their video and posts it to Facebook.
When Did It Get So Dangerous?
The game started off with players downing a pint of relatively low-alcohol beer but it soon escalated to become more dangerous. Each player was expected to take part in a more challenging way and some started drinking stronger alcohol such as wine or undiluted spirits.
Alcohol aside, some players even decided to drink while taking part in a more dangerous activity, such as downing the drink while skateboarding down a highway or hanging off a helicopter. One nominee in Australia even completed his task before nailing his testicles to a table.
The brother of a 19-year-old who disappeared after jumping into a river sent a plea out on Twitter, asking the game to stop.
— Sean mc Aleese (@SeanmcAleese1) February 2, 2014
Another victim, 22-year-old Ross Cummins, was found unconscious in a house in Dublin and later died in hospital.
Rugby player Bradley Eames, 20, died four days after filming himself drinking two pints of gin in a #neknominate challenge, while 29-year-old Stephen Brooks from Cardiff was pronounced dead after drinking a pint of vodka as part of a #neknomination challenge.
But are these deaths down to the stupidity of individuals, lack of education about alcohol or the fact that Facebook didn’t stop the game spreading?
Professor Mark Ellis, of the UK Faculty of Public Health told UK newspaper The Telegraph, that it is peer pressure on social networks making people take part.
‘[#neknominate] has created a very dangerous cultural environment. A few things come together here, with social media and a real risk of peer pressure, especially combined with a substance that makes people very susceptible.
‘Young people think they are fine to do these things with no consequences. But the reality, as we have seen over the past few days, is that it is hugely dangerous. For each of these deaths there will be dozens who have attended A&E. One of the key things is that when you go out, your friends can look after you. But when people are doing this there really is nobody there to help.’
Why Didn’t Facebook Ban The Game?
There were numerous calls for Facebook to intervene and close down #neknominate groups before more people died. The social network repeatedly declined and said the game didn’t go against its community standards and it was the responsibility of the individual not to take part if they didn’t feel comfortable.
An official statement said, ‘We do not tolerate content which is directly harmful, for example bullying, but controversial or offensive behavior is not necessarily against our rules. We encourage people to report things to us which they feel break our rules so we can review and take action on a case by case basis. We also give people the ability to remove themselves from an uncomfortable conversation through tools such as untagging and blocking.’
In a survey on The Guardian, 58 per cent of respondents said Facebook should not intervene and many of the comments agreed with this trend.
One Guardian reader said, ‘It’s not facebook’s responsibility to police people’s utter idiocy,’ while another said, ‘The game does not require people to drink bleach or do anything dangerous. They choose their own drink and the vast majority have chosen something that neither kills nor puts them in hospital. It’s not fair on those playing sensibly to ban it because of the stupid actions of a few.’
‘If people are stupid enough to take part in this ‘craze’, why should Facebook take the responsibility of banning the videos? Can’t people take responsibility for their own actions anymore?’
However, there were also further calls for Facebook to ban the game.
‘I’m in disagreement with people who say Facebook is not responsible. Facebook is providing the platform for this game to be played. They are responsible when the game turns to a dangerous level to discourage this. Facebook are happy to take down pictures of mothers breastfeeding so why not something that kills,’ said one commenter.
The Rise Of Something A Little Less Dangerous
Following the deaths of five young people, many seemed to have opted out of playing the game.
One man nominated to #neknominate in New Zealand decided to do something a little different, opting to give a homeless man food and water. This became a trend of #raknominate – or ‘random acts of kindness nominate’.
Facebook feeds soon became filled with #raknominate videos, including this man who gave all his clothes to a homeless man.
And just as quickly as the trend started, it’s switched to a whole range of safer nomination-based games, including #nicnominate, where nominees post pictures of Nicolas Cage and #neighnominate – pictures of horses.
I certainly don’t think Facebook will agree to take down any of these nominations, do you?