Without the watchful eyes of our parents or looming curfews, we are able to do things at college that we felt unable to do in high school. This is natural for students who are newly exploring the freedoms of adulthood. However, the presence of social media has pushed this experience to its limits, and these explorations now include the consumption of laundry detergent and dangerous stunts. Students are constantly trying to outdo each other with their antics, so much so that many students’ well being have been superseded by their desires to go viral.
The most relevant example of this as of late is the notorious Tide Pod Challenge. Starting off as a meme on Twitter, the Tide Pod Challenge encourages the consumption of Tide Pods due to their candy-like appearance. While this originated as a joke, people took this concept and ran with it, ingesting the laundry detergent-filled pouches in commitment to the trend. In January, a Utah State University student was hospitalized after eating a Tide Pod, proving that this trend has permeated college culture. The trend has become so serious that Tide began to release advertising to discourage consumption. In its original form, meme culture is amazing. However, in their attempts for recognition, students have failed to allow a meme to be simply what it is — an online expression of humor – by taking it to dangerous lengths.
We see this toxic relationship between students and the media occur frequently on Instagram accounts like Barstool and 5th Year. These accounts are fueled by direct submissions from college students and cultivate content that focuses on partying and outrageous antics. Although it is generally assumed that NYU students do not partake in the same party culture as other universities, this past academic year, a Barstool spinoff account was created solely for NYU students. This account showcases the same content as the other two pages but submissions are specifically from NYU students, for NYU students. While some videos are funny and relatable, like the ones that feature students falling asleep in class, this account also displays content of students, often intoxicated, pulling off dangerous stunts, such as crashing onto a table after jumping off of a banister or breaking through a door. While these videos could have been taken without the intent of exposure, the attention these videos garner encourages other students to do the same.
Social media has been beneficial for our generation in many ways. We are able to connect with different people and cultures in ways that we otherwise would not be able to. It allows for us to share information and build a greater community beyond our immediate ones. Despite this, we can not ignore the toxicity that has erupted from the desire to go viral –– to have more likes, views and comments. I understand that it is easy to jump on the bandwagon by liking and commenting on content that profiles dangerous behavior, but I would urge students to consider how their contributions to these trends shape our generation and our culture.
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A version of this appeared in the Monday, February 12 print edition. Email at Tyler Crews [email protected].