Teens sickened after eating Tide Pods became part of a viral social media campaign earlier this year that awakened concerns about why such silliness ever gains momentum.
“Trends like this can come from the bottom rather than through mass media,” said Carrie Brown, the director of social media journalism at The City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism. “It’s not easy to get something to go viral. It has to be something that captures people’s attention.”
“The Tide Pod challenge is more bizarre,” Brown said. “Part of the motivation may be that it’s something so shocking you want to participate.”
In 2014, the Ice Bucket challenge joined the viral ranks after people poured ice cold buckets of water over their heads to raise awareness for Lou Gehrig’s disease. Wet-headed participants raised $115 million for The ALS Association, a non-profit organization for research on the disease.
According to a study by the New York Times Consumer Insight Group, 84 percent of people share information on social media to support a cause or issue they feel strongly about. Sixty-nine percent share information on social media to participate and feel involved in things happening in the world.
And while some of the viral trends serve good cause, others reach the level of silly, if not dangerous.
In the cinnamon challenge participants eat spoonfuls of cinnamon. In the bath-salt challenge the foolhardy pus salt on their hands and an ice cube on top to endure the pain.
Dr. Pamela B. Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center in Newport Beach and a faculty in the media psychology program at Fielding Graduate University in in Santa Barbara wrote that the negative impact of social media is powerful.
“We have to understand social media, how it works, it’s allure and shortcomings so that we can make intelligent and safe choices.”
In a study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, researchers scanned the brains of 32 teenagers aged 13 to 18 as they used social media to determine the effects of photo ‘likes’ on their brains and behavior.
With the Tide Pod challenge, teens are more focused on the amount of attention and likes that they recieve from their peers. The part of their brain that tells them that they shouldn’t be eating a tide pod doesn’t warn them. They care more about their five-minutes of fame they will receive on social media.
The researchers showed the teenagers a series of photos that the teens sent in with likes generated by the researchers. When the teenagers saw their photo with a lot of ‘likes’ activity in the nucleus accumbens, which is a part of the reward circultry and is said to be sensitive during adolescence, the social brain, and regions linked to visual attention.
“Seeing photos that depict risky behavior sees to decrease activity in the regions that put the brakes on, perhaps weakening teens’ “be careful” filter,” said Mirella Dapretto, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA’s Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior and a senior author of the study. The results of the study revealed that the teens were more influenced to ‘like’ a photo that already has a large number of likes than those that had fewer likes.
“Social media has a tremendous influence,” said Brown. “I think everybody needs to think about the possible effects. Think about common sense before clicking the share button.”
Aurora Begay is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.