Online social media “challenges”—games that require or dare a user to complete certain tasks—promote risky and dangerous behavior, sometimes resulting in injuries and death.
Young teens and adolescents are more likely exposed and susceptible to participating in these types of online engagements due to their prevalent use of social media platforms and applications. Teenagers’ lack of impulse control also means they are more prone to engage in risk-taking behavior.
Dangerous social media challenges can be broken down into categories based on the behavior they promote, including, self-harm, extreme physical stunts, and ingestion challenges.
Self-harm challenges promote individuals to self-inflict burning and cutting and some even promote suicide. One of the most well-known challenges—the Blue Whale Challenge—has been connected to over 130 deaths worldwide, including a 16-year-old Georgia girl and a 15-year-old boy from Texas, according to media. The challenge is conducted over a 50-day period with participants assigned tasks to complete via an administrator. Tasks include cutting an image of a whale into one’s forearm and ultimately committing suicide on the last day of the challenge.
Extreme physical stunts are not technical or organized social media challenges, rather individuals engage in these stunts usually to promote personal social media profiles and appeal to online followers. Extreme physical stunts include jumping out of moving cars, standing in front of trains, and climbing tall buildings and natural structures to take videos, photos and “selfies.” Over 250 people have died in the last six years worldwide from attempts to take selfies in dangerous or extreme places—with more than 85 percent of the victims between the ages of 10 and 30—according to the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care study.
Ingestion challenges encourage participants to consume toxic chemicals, alcohol, spices, or large amounts of food such as marshmallows and crackers. Obvious risks include potential choking hazards and complications from blocked airways and inhalation of the substances. Severe allergic reactions are also possible. Harsh chemicals, spices and food risk damaging a victim’s esophagus or lungs. According to poison control centers, in 2017 there were 10,000 cases reported involving the ingestion of laundry soap detergent.