Social media should not be blamed for people’s stupid behaviour

Opinion: Drink and idiocy is, as always, a dangerous cocktail


A great confederacy of dunces has taken to social media in recent weeks to dare and double dare each other to eat their own goldfish, flush their heads down toilets, perform enemas on themselves in the name of fun and put their lives and the lives of others at varying degrees of risk while downing sometimes toxic levels of booze.

The concept of neknominations is, by any measure, profoundly and depressingly stupid but its idiocy has been amplified by the shrieks of befuddled dismay coming from Official Ireland since it first heard tell of the word a little over a week ago.

The Neknomination notion may be new to most of us but the moral panic it has engendered is wearyingly familiar. Music, books, energy drinks, video games, teenage discos - and even something as ridiculously quaint as the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game – have all had officialdom frothing with apoplectic rage at regular intervals over the last couple of centuries.

The latest intergenerational clash has seen Ministers call for “something to be done” while judges have warned of a wave – actually not even a wave but a tsunami – of rapes and homicides if the latest social media phenomena goes unchecked.

The fourth estate has not been found wanting either and in recent days it has been falling over itself in its haste to publish condemnatory editorials and confessional articles about the time this journalist did a dare or that one was dared to do a dare.

As the moral panic reached fever pitch earlier this week, Labour’s Pat Rabbitte was doorstepped by a media pack hungry to find a fresh angle to the story of the day. He did a mean impression of Helen Lovejoy from The Simpsons when he metaphorically threw his arms in the air and exclaimed in a falsetto voice: “Will someone think of the children.” He suggested that Facebook – the medium through which the craze has spread, virus-like, from Australia - should act swiftly to bring the madness of its crowd to an end.

It is not, however, Facebook’s job to intervene when people using its services are doing foolish things and it said as much when rejecting Rabbitte’s off the cuff and possibly ill-considered calls for it to prohibit users from neknominations. “At Facebook we try to be a platform where people can share freely whilst still protecting the rights of others. We do not tolerate content which is directly harmful, for example bullying, but controversial or offensive behaviour is not necessarily against our rules,” a spokesman said.

But the story still had legs. Mr Justice Paul Carney joined the chorus of disapproval at the sentencing hearing of a Waterford man who had pleaded guilty to rape. Despite the fact that this appalling crime had no link to technology or social media, the judge took it upon himself to surf the zeitgeist by warning us all that if “the current internet drinking contest takes hold, it is going to result in a tsunami of homicide and rape prosecutions coming before this court”.

Amidst all the hysteria some simple facts appear to have been forgotten. First off, Neknominations do not, typically, involve binge drinking and more often than not they see people knock back a solitary drink in as bizarre a location or fashion as they can imagine.

Secondly, it sees people doing things which are mostly legal – although one depressing element of the story is that the RSCPA felt it necessary to warn people yesterday that eating their pets was, in fact, against the law.

Thirdly those involved are doing these things of their own volition. And finally most of those involved are in their 20s so are, by any measure, old enough to know better – and certainly old enough to withstand the pressure of their peers.

The problem right now is not Facebook or social media or technology. The real problem at the core of the neknomination craze are the twin forces of drink and idiocy, always a dangerous cocktail.

It is not necessary – or desirable - for politicians or the judiciary to intervene. All that is needed to bring the neknomination thing to an end is for the people involved to cop themselves on and stop being so thick. And maybe start nominating each other to do random acts of kindness instead. That is a social media fad that everyone could get behind.

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