These days, people document their Sunday brunches, what music they're listening to and arguably every single thought that comes to mind on the Internet. But what happens when the need to document one's riskiest behavior has deadly consequences? Such is the case with the new viral online challenge, NekNominate.
What makes the NekNomination trend so harrowing is the fact that it reveals the dangers of social media as a way to make peer pressure even more inescapable.
Originating in England, NekNominate (also known as Neck and Nominate) is a binge-drinking game circulating through Facebook. To participate in NekNominate, one must drink an extremely large amount of alcohol on camera and then "nominate" three of your friends to do the same. The game's alcohol requirement apparently used to consist of downing a single pint as quickly as possible, but as it has evolved the game's expected level of alcohol consumption has only gotten riskier and, unfortunately, deadlier.
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So far, five young people have died from alcohol poisoning after playing NekNominate. The deaths have led to a movement to ban NekNominate videos from Facebook, with UK opposition leader Diana Johnson saying, "We need to bring Facebook within the law so that behaviour that would be illegal in the real world is illegal online."
Binge drinking among young people is certainly not uncommon, nor is documenting one's drunken activities on social media. But what makes the NekNomination trend so harrowing is the fact that it reveals the dangers of social media as a way to make peer pressure even more inescapable. Whereas treacherous drinking games could once be easily be rejected in the basement of one's local frat, now the dare game request is public for everyone to see online.
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In recent years, Facebook has been named the newest vehicle for peer pressure. A report released in 2013 by the Journal of Adolescent Health on how documentation of drug and alcohol usage on sites such as Facebook contributes to peer pressure found that "exposure to friends' risky displays online significantly contributed to adolescent smoking and drinking." Basically, seeing your friend's drunken party pictures in your newsfeed makes you want to get drunk and party (or at least, post that you are).
Facebook is inherently pressuring, no matter the activity posted. The site has been known to cause envy and depression among its users, as users scroll through and see the (obviously highly curated selection) of media their friends post. When you combine such a public platform with a challenge to binge-drink, you will get a lethal FOMO — fear of missing out. The constant stream of content aiming to gain likes can can be dangerous territory for anything exceptionally attention-grabbing (like, say, a video of someone chugging an entire bottle of vodka).
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Will banning NekNominate videos change anything? Judging by how much social media-induced pressure contributes to underage binge drinking, the answer is arguably yes. But Facebook is merely a platform for such videos, and is not responsible for the content posted. The power to accept or reject the challenge rests on the shoulders of those nominated.
And a young person saying no to a NekNomination in a public sphere actually may be just as influential as someone saying yes. Some Facebook users are changing the rules of the game to fit a more positive message. Hashtags opposed to the drinking game such as #donominate are being used to promote random acts of kindness. After being nominated, Brent Lindique spun his nomination on its head and turned it into a challenge for charity, and bought a homeless man lunch in a video that has over 100,000 views. Thus, while Facebook may not be able to ban NekNomination videos altogether, individuals can effectively ban them on their own.
NekNomination is an extreme form of social media exhibitionism, but maybe it takes such an intense form of attention-seeking to get people to realize the role that social media plays in peer pressure among teens. Facebook magnifies and highlights the craziest, funniest, most exciting parts of people's lives — from animal pictures to parties, and now risk-taking activities. Users need to remember that Facebook content, from glossy photos to chugging alcohol without fail, should never be taken at face value.