Viral Social Media Challenges
With the growth and pervasiveness of social media, there has been a corresponding rise in the rapid, viral spread of “challenges” on various platforms. In a typical challenge of this sort, a user demonstrates an unusual or risky behavior, often in a video. The sensational or dramatic nature of these posts then results in more people or algorithms sharing the content with other users, who then imitate the behavior in hopes of going viral themselves by showing that they can succeed at the challenge. Despite many of these challenges being risky in nature, warnings about potential dangers are frequently absent or de-emphasized, leading to children and adolescents experiencing physical harm.
Such social challenges pre-date the current generation of large social media platforms. The risky Cinnamon Challenge, for example, originated over 14 years ago. The increasing ubiquity of social media and the algorithmic way posts now gain popularity have created enormous new potential audiences for this type of content.
While some viral challenges, like 2014’s Ice Bucket Challenge promoting ALS awareness and philanthropy or the #trashtag challenge promoting litter cleanup, have productive goals without significant risks, many other challenges actively endanger users. The study of the spread and effects of these challenges is vital in understanding how to protect users from harm. Below are examples from our database of academic citations on the topic:
- An Investigation on the Portrayal of Blue Whale Challenge on YouTube and Twitter
This 2019 analysis of social media content relating to the Blue Whale challenge found an alarming lack of safe messaging about self-harm and suicide in both cautionary messages and commentary on the phenomenon.
- Burns challenges – Social media phenomena in youth
In a review of the literature and material on social media, the authors find little academic coverage of and few platform protections against viral social media challenges resulting in burn injuries.
- Raising awareness about cervical cancer using Twitter: Analysis of the #SmearForSmear campaign
This study analyzes the content and the users involved in the #SmearForSmear challenge and finds that most users in the sample were women and posted selfies to engage with the challenge, among other findings.