An analysis of the current issue in journalism, study of the ‘neknomination’ drinking game craze and other dangerous online trends, with the issue being using ‘user generated content’ or ‘mobile witnessing to document anti-social or even life threatening behaviour and stunts.
A generation has passed on from the joys and laughs of a televised home video entertainment show now comes the era of ‘funny’ YouTube videos, 6-second vines, 10-second snaps, and 15 second Instagram videos. The question is, just how are mobile devices being used to witness and document these videos and various other recent social media ‘trends’? How far are people willing to go for a couple of laughs, likes and favourites? Far enough it seems, so far at least five people have lost their life to the latest online craze, neknominations.
In this essay, I will explore and analyse the topic of mobile witnessing in context with the current issue of neknominations and other anti-social/dangerous self-documented material. Firstly, I will explain the background of this new craze, focusing on its origins, facts, statistics, details, laws, problems, public interest, and look to how different news media outlets have covered the study, including how much press coverage it received. I will then look at the language used in press coverage and how that affected the reception of the information by the various different readers. I will find out and compare different ‘opinion pieces’ and analysis’s by different and influential media voices on the various media platforms. Finally, I will explore the way in which the topic of neknominations connects with the current issue of mobile witnessing and why it needs to be resolved as a problem to society.
The new online craze is none other than a drinking game, whereby one person drinks a large quantity of alcohol as part of a bet and upon completion, nominates two or three of their internet friends to do the same within twenty-four hours of the nomination being cast. Even though people argue that this drinking game has always existed in various different forms, the online drinking game is said to have originated in Australia, [Hood, 2014] supposedly by a rugby player who drank and then nominated people to do the same, and attempt to outdo him. However, through following the news noise of this story, we will see that the issue of neknominations in the news is based in the United Kingdom where the highest impact of the ‘game’ was recorded. We do know is that it appeared online in January 2014 (as we can go on Google and search neknominations and the earliest mention of this game was in January) and since then it has had about 70,900 results on YouTube alone; this suggests that from January to may 2014, there have been over 70,900 self-uploaded videos of people participating in the neknomination. There has been over three thousand online news articles dedicated to or mentioning neknomination from January – may 2014. Since then, we have had different types of the neknomination including the wetnomination (jumping from heights or bridges to get wet then nominating friends to do the same) or the ice bucket challenge (melting ice cubes and dumping the ice cold water over their heads and nominating three people to do the same) and finally the ‘fire challenge’ (rubbing the body with alcohol and then alighting the area with fire and nominating others to do the same). The similarities between these online ‘games’ and ‘challenges’ is that all of them must be filmed and uploaded on various social media websites and be shared, which they then are. As the dares and challenges get more and more dangerous, including five deaths from neknominations in February 2014, [Knapton, 2014] many politicians and government officials have spoken out at these ‘games’ but as of yet no official laws have been released to legally condemn these online challenges.
I initially heard of neknominations through Facebook, after seeing a friend condemn and request that people would stop nominating her to do these neknominations. After searching online, I found videos of people drinking liquor out of toilets, people drinking live goldfish and then regurgitating them into their grandma’s fishbowls, among an array of other shudder worthy acts. What really grabbed my attention was the fact that two or three people had already lost their lives to these online games. However, the most part of the story reportage happened online; the only mentions of the neknominations I saw in newspapers was when the deaths due to neknominations happened. These were various media outlets like the metro, the guardian, etc. My understanding was that this could be a type of mobile witnessing happening, as all these neknominations were being recorded and then posted online where they could be watched and shared onwards by anybody.
This developing over time, I came to realise and focus on how important the current issue of mobile witnessing was all over the world. It was not only a platform used for first hand reportage by citizen journalists in foreign wars, acts of terrorism and natural disasters all over the world, but that this new phenomenon was being used by people all over the world for their ideas of entertainment and internet fame. The length of the attention to the neknominations started around January – June 2014, by which time the focus and attention was shifted towards other various online games from June 2014 e.g. ice bucket challenge/wetnomination/fire challenge] and it is still on-going, however most articles about that mention how all these new nomination games and challenges stem from the neknomination. [McCarthy, 2014]
“Rugby player Bradley Eames, 20, died four days after filming himself drinking two pints of gin in a neknominate challenge. Another 20-year-old, Isaac Richardson died earlier this month after drinking a lethal cocktail of wine, whisky, vodka and larger as part of a similar dare.
Other recent deaths linked to the neknominate craze include Irish teenager Jonny Byrne 19, from Carlow, who jumped into a river midway through a challenge.
His death in February came a day after 22-year-old Ross Cummins died in Dublin City Centre.
Stephen brooks, 29, of Cardiff, is believed to have died after drinking a pint of vodka as part of a neknomination challenge.”
– [Knapton, 2014]
The fact that all five of the victims of neknomations gone bad were under the age of 30 shows us that the neknomination was attracting a majority of young adults and teenagers. Some were too young to legally be drinking alcohol, let alone competing in hard-core and often fatal drinking games. This would perhaps shed light to local authorities and governments on the seriousness of this issue. Moreover, the existing footage could become source of material that can be used by psychologists to analyse youth behaviour that could ultimately lead to solutions being given to tackle this bandwagonism culture among young adults in society. Of the existing studies on phone studies, it has been criticised that the studies that only “looking at how individuals are using mobiles for representative purposes in the public sphere, they are not tackling the same issues related to ethics that arise from recording atrocities” [Reading, 2009]
The problem with the neknomination seems to be from existing fears of health personnel that as drinking are already such a huge problem in the United Kingdom; health professionals believe that now the addition of neknominations will only send that number higher, whereas the country should be working towards getting the number of alcoholics down. Moreover, the fact that ambulances have been getting substantially more calls [Nottingham Post, 2014] from people drinking too much means the average taxpayer is paying more money to cover the higher amount of medical attention needed for these otherwise unnecessary stunts. In the east midlands alone it has been reported that there has been £2.5 million of the taxpayers money spent on ambulance services rushing drunken people to the hospital for treatment. [Nottingham Post, 2014] this includes neknomination drinkers. Dave winter, the ambulance service’s assistant director of operations has claimed “figures show four call-outs in six months directly related to neknominations, but we don’t know how many more it is causing. Crews won’t necessarily record them, so it could be much higher. You are taking a very large amount of poison in one hit. I’m hoping it’s just a craze” [Nottingham Post, 2014]
Subsequently, there has been talk of legalising laws where people can be charged with manslaughter if they are found to be challenging a friend to a neknomination. Lawyer Julian Young said that “even if the dangerous stunt didn’t end in tragedy, they harm animals, like swallowing a goldfish, there could be a case for causing unnecessary suffering.’ [Cooper, 2014] this has since been refuted by the independent newspaper as it suggests that it is unlikely that someone would be charged with manslaughter for something that happens in the public domain as they only suggested the person do the dare, unless there was constant harassment towards a person pressurising them to partake in the neknomination. It is unlikely for a charge to be made they say because “it has never happened before,” not that it could still happen in the future. [Aldridge, 2014]. From this we can understand that there are no official laws or policies being drawn up by the government by the influence of the neknomination, despite the deaths and the public interest in the matter.
However, this neknomination issue isn’t something the United Kingdom or the world hasn’t witnessed before. In 2005 we witnessed the ‘happy slapping’ craze (walking up to random people and slapping them with the intention of capturing in on the then new phone recording technologies.) However as many of these attacks were considered by authorities to actually be physical assaults, they did arrest the perpetrators. One problem in the case of happy slapping was that these videos were shared mostly by Bluetooth, (a method of sharing content with people by connecting both phones, this had to be in proximity to each other,) this was unlike sharing material on the internet nowadays, in which you could upload a video on YouTube and get away with sharing it without local authorities getting a copy. However, this ended later during the craze as many were convicted. Among these was a 15-year-old girl who didn’t actually partake in the slapping activity, but was charged for being the one who recorded it, so she was charged for aiding a criminal act. “The message is this: if you stand by and watch your friends committing brutal crimes and video their acts… Prosecution may follow” – Judith Naylor, cps. [BBC News, 2008] The issue here is that she was charged for ‘standing by and watching friends committing brutal crimes.’ there is only one thing that comes to mind, and that is are neknominations considered to be ‘committing brutal crimes’ or are they just minor crimes that are reoccurring, e.g. Underage drinking for the 9 year old whose stomach had to get pumped, or the lady who helped her son participate in the online ‘fire challenge’. [Saul, 2014]
Different news outlets all have various approaches to covering the story; some started off with a quote from an existing neknomination video, describing what a neknomination is and supplying medical opinions and facts on the matter, and mentioning social media’s role in the drinking game. However, here the focus of the article is about placing the blame on social media networks particularly Facebook. “It’s very difficult in this day of personal liberties to say that Facebook shouldn’t be condoning this or taking these videos offline…frankly, if the thrill wasn’t there… i expect it would very rapidly fizzle out.” [Wilkinson and Soares, 2014] the metro also had a short article, simply stating the facts of the story, briefly describing what neknominations are, and concluding on what a medical personnel has to say on the issue of neknomination. [Tahir, 2014] being a tabloid, the metro would have much less information than that of a broadsheet newspaper like the independent. Thus we would also expect the language of the article to be different. While the metro has focused on those whom have died by performing neknominations, it gives the readers quotes of those related to the deceased; we would expect this to generate feelings of understanding and sympathy. Whereas we find with the independent article about the neknomination issue; the focus is a more detached, factual and straight to the point, giving the reader room to make his or her own decisions regarding the subject.
In contrast to this, some media organisations tend to have occasional ‘opinion pieces,’ which are articles in which the writer expresses their personal opinion, typically one which is controversial or provocative, about a particular issue or item of news. While there were many opinion pieces in the news about neknominations, there was one in particular I believe stood out more than the rest. It was a personal account of a neknominatee who thought it was the silliest thing ever, but believed that over-demonising or attempting to ban it would only create a underground network of neknominators for years to come, rather the opinionated piece suggests that society let it run its natural course like all other online crazes. They suggested, “if you highlight the dangers and let it run its course, everyone will soon realise that it’s just a boring old drinking game and it will be over before you know it. [Hood, 2014]
As aforementioned, neknominations are not the only type of user self generated content that are dangerous. Vines, Snapchats and Instagram videos are enabling people all over the world to post anything they want, accounts completely dedicated to the distribution of content, from pranks to funny home videos. While these are supposedly used to share funny and entertaining content, when used to document life threatening tricks and stunts that are then later picked up by other people especially children. Not long ago, a teenager decided to make what was supposedly to be a ‘funny vine’ in which he tried jumping over a moving car for the six second vine but instead crashed right into it. This was then uploaded onto a public social networking site vine; this was viewed by many people, but was deleted by the owner as he realised what he did for his six seconds of Internet stardom was not worth the lasting message of recklessness, so he deleted the vine. It later resurfaced on the Internet – as all things do. He tweeted “I understand that this car jump thing will not fade. So let me be an example of a bad decision and speak truth to the power of the web… I want people to understand that putting your life on the line for an Internet following isn’t worth it” [Nwosu, 2013]. This just shows that people are using their mobile devices to record potentially dangerous clips for the Internet.
While we can argue that this is a form of mobile witnessing, there is the argument that its hardly ‘witnessing’ if the people are more than aware of the presence of the camera, and they are documenting mobile clips made in mind for mass online distribution. However, we must look at what exactly mobile witnessing is and why it is such a current issue in journalism. Mobile witnessing is a stem from the branch of citizen journalism; it is by the means of first-person reportage in which “ordinary individuals temporally adopt the role of a journalist in order to participate in newsmaking, often spontaneously during a time of crisis, accident, tragedy or disaster when they happen to be present on the scene.” [Allan, 2013]
Another part of the current issue of neknominations in mobile witnessing is that it shows us how mobile witnessed videos on the Internet are impacting and influencing more and more different people including children. The Daily Mail reported that the youngest known participator of neknominations was 9-year old Rhiannon Scully, who had to get her stomach pumped after participating in the drinking game, not because she was actually nominated to do so; but because she saw older people on her social media feeds doing it and wanted to try it out. This also shows us the powerful impact of social media in society. [Smith, 2014]
Furthermore, there are many that dispute the claim that neknominations are dangerous. In an interview with the owner of the Facebook page and now website dedicated to the sharing of neknominations, Jay Anthony agrees that while he had personally seen some incredibly ridiculous neknominations and is aware of the dangers being posed to people by their participation in the drinking game, he still believes that if it promoted the importance of safety, the neknomination was nothing but an “innovation”. [Groom, 2014] while others say that the neknomination is nothing new and there has always been an existence of a drinking game of this like and that it is only getting media attention because it is being played online more and people are getting hurt, whereas they don’t usually pay attention to the everyday victims of substance abuse so much as they do with the neknomination. However, it is still a current issue, because it is suggesting a high amount of people are being peer-pressured into drinking where they may not usually do so, all in the hunt for their 15 seconds of glory or trying to out play a friend and show them up and not thinking of the repercussions of their actions in the long-term.
In conclusion, the idea of mobile witnessing is no longer just a means by which people are documenting events or actions of their everyday life. We find that regardless of what it is documenting, the new age technology devices are being used by owners all over the world to record and then distribute material. Whether it is coverage of events over the world, or self-harming stunts, mobile devices all over the world are watching, recording, uploading and sharing, as can be seen with radical groups in the middle east doing recently by displaying things that should not be made so publicly available for all to see.
- Aldridge, A. (2014) Why a prosecution for a neknomination dare wouldn’t happen, http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/why-a-prosecution-for-a-neknomination-dare-wouldnt-happen-9135778.html
- Allan, S. (2013) Citizen witnessing. 1st ed. Cambridge: polity press.
- BBC News, (2008) ‘Happy slap’ death girl convicted. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/west_yorkshire/7244782.stm
- Cooper, R. (2014) Neknominating could land you with a manslaughter charge, lawyers warn after third British death from internet drinking craze: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2561110/neknominating-land-manslaughter-charge-lawyers-warn-british-death-internet-drinking-craze.html
- Groom, N. (2014) Drunk Australians have invented a stupid new drinking game: http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/neknominate-is-a-fun-new-social-media-game-for-perpetually-drunk-australians
- Hood, S. (2014) neknominate: don’t demonise this dumb drinking game, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/10616973/NekNominate-dont-demonise-this-dumb-drinking-game.html
- Knapton, S. (2014) neknominate: alcohol deaths rise fuelled by online drinking games, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/10649164/NekNominate-alcohol-deaths-rise-fuelled-by-online-drinking-games.html
- Mccarthy, J. (2014), The man who sparked the dangerous wet-nominate diving craze admits ‘my mum begged me to stop’: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/man-who-sparked-dangerous-wet-nominate-7626372
- Nottingham Post, (2014) £2.5m east midlands ambulance bill to take drunk patients to A&E: http://www.nottinghampost.com/2-5m-east-midlands-ambulance-drunk-patients-e/story-21124785-detail/story.html#ixzz331eadsiq
- Nwosu, O. (2013) dangerous vine stunt proves internet fame isn’t worth it, http://mashable.com/2013/09/18/dangerous-vine-fail/
- Reading, A (2009): Mobile Witnessing: Ethics and the Camera Phone in the ‘War on Terror’, Globalizations, 6:1, 61-76
- Saul, H. (2014) Mother arrested after son suffers minor burns in ‘fire challenge social media video’, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/mother-arrested-after-son-suffers-minor-burns-in-fire-challenge-social-media-video-9664363.html
- Smith, J. (2014). Wetnominate video shows man jumping off high bridge into water: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2722791/From-Neknominate-wetnominate-Fears-follow-deadly-drinking-game-man-filmed-hurling-high-bridge-backwards.html
- Tahir, T. (2014) Two British men killed by neknominate drink dares, http://metro.co.uk/2014/02/10/two-british-men-killed-by-neknominate-drink-dares-4298841/
- Wilkinson, P. And Soares, I. (2014) Neknominate: ‘Lethal’ drinking game sweeps social media, http://edition.cnn.com/2014/02/18/world/europe/neknominate-drinking-game/