Anyone that has been on social media in the past three months has most likely heard of the Tide Pods craze. While it was still viral, it was extremely common to hear jokes involving the laundry detergent online, in school, and elsewhere. As with most other memes, the craze died out about as fast as it grew. However, in its short lifespan, it has caused irreversible damage to almost all those who participated that has made many question how to prevent avoidable and harmful challenges in the future.
Throughout the past decade on social media, occasional “challenge” memes have popped up. Some of them have been harmless and even charitable, such as the ice bucket challenge in 2014 in which participants had the choice of either donating money to the ALS Association or dumping ice water on their heads while being filmed. However, challenges that are much more dangerous and harmful have gone viral as well; some examples include the cinnamon challenge, the salt and ice challenge, and the recent Tide Pods challenge.
Why any challenge goes viral changes from case to case and is never clear-cut. In a response to a question posed on an online forum asking why the Tide Pod challenge went viral, Emmad Mazhari commented that “Tide Pods look like candy (delicious candy at that). The bright colors, shapes, texture and weight all resemble that of a ‘bite-sized’ snack.” Many others agreed with this statement, adding on that peer pressure and the desire to gain attention or a following online play major roles as well.
Due to the challenge, a spike in incidents and calls has emerged, especially from teenagers and young adults filming themselves. The harmful effects of consumption are usually caused by the product’s intended purpose of breaking down stains.
When the gel is exposed to someone’s mouth or throat, it destroys the cells it comes in contact with, causing severe inflammation and widespread necrosis, preventing the consumer from breathing. Because of this and other reasons, it is extremely dangerous to participate.
This challenge isn’t the first time the parent company Procter & Gamble have faced controversy and backlash due to the dangerous nature of the product. Since their release in 2012, there have been over 50,000 calls to the Poison Control Center involving (you guessed it) poisoning of consumers. Outside of the recent incidents, these victims have mostly been children under the age of five and seniors, both typically consuming the detergent due to its candy-like appearance. In an attempt to prevent further cases, the company has tried and discussed many different tactics throughout the years such as coating the bright packets with a bitter substance and performing social media campaigns to prevent consumption.
Even though we may be able to overcome the issues with Tide Pods, the arrival of a new and possibly even riskier challenge seems to be inevitable. The problem doesn’t stem from these challenges, but rather, the challenges are a byproduct of the real issue. As social media has evolved, we have found more and more ways to get fifteen minutes of fame. Until we find a way to quell the desire for this, we will continue to see dangerous trends such as the Tide Pod Challenge.