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From stupidity to kindness: ‘Neknomination’ and ‘RAKnomination’

Just as about every other human (and other animal) behavior has turned up in social media, so has “neknomination” (or “neck nomination,” “neck and nominate,” etc.). It keeps evolving, but it’s now a blend of onatare game (e.g., “Truth or Dare” or “Top This”) and drinking game that’s thought to have started in Australia (UK reporters say). It began getting mainstream media coverage across the Atlantic this month after neknomination was connected to some deaths of young adults – including one in Northern Ireland, the BBC reported.

What always had a certain pre-adolescent risk-taking appeal, never felt like a good idea and usually was private but always had the potential for serious public humiliation seems to have an added layer of physical danger with a toxic mix of bigger audiences, drinking (alcohol as well as other substances) and physical stunts. Jonny Byrne, the 19-year-old who died in Northern Ireland, jumped off a bridge after “necking” (speed-drinking). Gawker has other examples of how bad the “game” has gotten – to the point where a self-destructive need for “fame” seems to be an element.

Daring & shaming can be bullying

That’s where the latest version uses social media – taking video of oneself doing the drinking, then “nominating” three peers to top that by “tagging” or naming them on a neknomination page. But this is not new. Researchers showed the Berkman Center task force of 2008 how people of all ages (usually younger ones) would dare each other to view the most disgusting possible videos and do crazy stunts in video-sharing sites to grow their followings. Neknomination is another form of both daring and attention seeking, but the “top this” element has made it dangerous. [If you can stomach watching some of the "feats" – which can start with drinking shots of hard alcohol, urine and other substances – there are plenty of examples on YouTube and in news sites.]

Then there’s the bullying element. Certainly speed drinking has long been part of hazing, and there is always an element of peer pressure, but Jonny Byrne’s brother, who had tried to rescue him, told the BBC that neknomination is sometimes a form of bullying. He said that a friend of Jonny’s who’d been neknominated the previous week and ignored the nomination had been harassed and bullied for being a “chicken.”

RAKnomination: Spreading random acts of kindness

Neknomination has got to stop. The thing is, users themselves are taking action. For every type of negative (or destructive) use of social media, there seems to be a positive one.

Shortly after Jonny Byrne’s death, #RAKnomination (about videos of people nominating others to commit random acts of kindness, or RAKs) started trending on Twitter and Facebook, TheJournal.ie reported. Another positive countermeasure is “nekdonations.” A man in South Africa posted a video that inspired a man in Northern Ireland to nekdonate – donate 5 euros, “the price of a pint of beer” – to Temple Street Children’s Hospital and nominate others to do something similar.

As for Brent Lindeque, the South African man, he was neknominated by someone, so he videotaped himself giving a sandwich, drink and chocolate bar to a homeless man and nominated three more people to commit kind acts themselves. “Underneath his video, which has amassed nearly 100,000 views [now 300,000+],” reported Metro.co.uk, “he writes: ‘I’ve decided to create something positive out of the random global phenomenon of NekNominations…. Imagine if we all harnessed the power of social media to make a real difference in peoples lives. #OnlyGoodThings’.” Here are more examples of RAKnominations in the Huffington Post. Some people are also turning neknomination pages into pages promoting responsible drinking.

Expressions of kindness and support happen all the time in social media just as they do in the offline world. We just need to remember that it’s the news media’s job to report the news, i.e., the exception to the rule, not the rule – for example, airplane crashes, not safe landings. It’s our job to be media-literate enough to understand that what we see in the news about what can be seen in social media is not the norm. Meanwhile, our children generally know it’s not, but if they don’t, our seeing it for the stupid behavior that it is will help them more than fearing that they’ll buy into it.

How to un-nominate yourself

If somebody you or your kids know gets “nominated” in Facebook, it means they’ve been tagged by the nominator, and they can untag – in effect, un-nominate – themselves (in addition to not taking the bait, not encouraging the stupidity and not doing something stupid). Most Facebook users already know how to untag themselves, but just in case not, here‘s how. They can also block the nominator if s/he’s getting really annoying, so the person can’t tag or message them or appear on their timeline, or they can click on “Activity Log” on their timeline page and delete the post from their timeline.

One other really good idea (for preventing annoying posts) is to turn on “Review posts friends tag you in before they appear on your timeline.” To do that, click on the teeny little gear icon in the upper-right corner of your home page or timeline, then on “Settings.” Then, in the left-hand column of your Settings page, click on “Timeline and Tagging,” which will take you to where you can pre-approve posts and tags. You’ll also be able to control “who can add things to [your] timeline,” “who can see things on [your] timeline” and more – really good things to be able to control!

Anyway, Newton’s Third Law seems to have a social media version: “For every [stupid or harmful] action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.”

Related links

  • There are many other examples of kind and helpful things people have done in social media, unrelated to neknomination, on ConnectSafely’s One Good Thing page (scroll down to the videos on this page); and, at our Safer Internet Day event in Washington last week, students talked about “Compliment Pages” created in Ask.fm and other sites that people have created to counteract social cruelty. There are more examples from students here and here.
  • ABC News coverage of the neknomination phenomenon.
  • About a very public “Truth or Dare” game in a New York City park.

Disclosure: ConnectSafely.org, the nonprofit organization I co-direct, receives financial support from Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and other tech companies.

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