Wedged between the baby photos and selfies that usually populate students’ Facebook timelines, much more disturbing things have recently appeared. You may have already heard of “neknominations,” online drinking videos that have swept through campus social media accounts. If you haven’t, the premise is simple: film yourself chugging or “necking” alcohol in extreme amounts, post the video and then challenge a peer to outshine the dangerous antics.
In this battle for supremacy, people have swung back drinks in lecture halls, filled toilet bowls with beer and ridden horses into grocery stores. The trend is a global one and it has hit Canada hard.
Those who have commented have focused mainly on the consequences. A number of “neknominees” have been hospitalized for alcohol poisoning or related injuries and BBC has reported at least three deaths from stunts allegedly attempted for neknomination videos.
But you may be wondering: what exactly makes these videos so tempting to create? Despite what the name might suggest, there is no obvious prize to be won. Unlike other viral video contests, which have been popularized by companies like Nestea and MasterCard, the prize isn’t money or a marketing internship. There’s nothing to gain except social media notoriety. After all, an average neknomination video will receive nothing more than hundreds of YouTube views and Facebook shares, mostly from strangers. Particularly jarring clips will see thousands of views and “likes.” But are these social media numbers enough to drive students to, for instance, walk naked through a campus library as was the case at UBC Okanagan? The short answer is yes.
Neknominations are an extreme way of accomplishing something many students are craving: to stand out from the crowd. Class sizes are becoming larger, internships are scarce and our generation is full of students who feel they are socially and professionally nearly indistinguishable.
This desire to stand out also fuels online services that guarantee students thousands of fake Twitter followers, Facebook shares or YouTube views for low prices. Christine (not her real name), a fellow Western University student, wasn’t sure it would work, but after purchasing 10,000 Twitter followers for five dollars, she saw her account quickly climb. She thinks it could help her get a job. “Depending on what career path someone’s going into, the perception of more followers and more people listening to what you have to say would definitely be a benefit.” But she says it also offers a place where people will, “actually pay attention to you.”
Christine is willing to grab the social media spotlight even if there’s a risk she’ll be found out as a fake. Apparently so was a student at St. Francis Xavier University who posted a neknomination video where it appeared he was chugging a bottle of hard liquor. In less than a day, he got 1,000 likes on his Facebook page and comments like “that was awesome,” and, “u are an absolute animal.” He then posted again to tell his fans that what he was drinking was only iced tea.
Kevin Hurren is opinions editor of The Gazette at Western University.