Viral online trends are not to blame, the participants are

Photo courtesy of TIME (Flickr)
Photo courtesy of TIME (Flickr)
Photo courtesy of TIME (Flickr)

The concept of ‘going viral’ has evolved from being a result of chance to a goal to aim for. As a result, more and more irresponsible Internet users aim to garner as many views and likes as possible by creating shocking content. I find that social media, be it online or through mobile applications, perpetuates viral challenges that gain a bad reputation for promoting irresponsibility.

However, more focus must be placed on the individuals misusing the Internet rather than on the technology itself.

In the Digital Age, many people posting content online are under pressure to get as many hits as possible, fearing their content will be considered unimportant or virtually non-existent. Nowhere is this concept more salient than when young people participate in viral challenges for attention — an attention that poses a great threat to society.

Most recently, warnings about the “Game of 72” have emerged in Canada regarding the potential for a new online craze. This game, or challenge, involves young people deliberately disappearing from home for 72 hours. The first case was recorded in France, but with the boundless nature of the Internet, Canadian authorities preferred not to take any chances.

“Attacks around [the] US probed for link to knockout game,” reads another case of the atrocities caused by viral challenges. In 2013, the knockout game, which challenges users to render others unconscious in public, has caused at least two deaths in the US, as a result of young people who followed the calling to go viral. Other deadly challenges like the recent ‘Fire Challenge,’ which pressures youngsters to light themselves on fire, have also gained popularity on social media.

To heavily regulate apps and social media defeats their democratic purpose and takes away user agency.

At this point, some may be quick to proclaim that social media is to blame for all our problems. However, this thinking is flawed.

Young people tend to negotiate their identity through risk-taking, which is characteristic of growing up. Combined with the endless pursuit of views, likes, upvotes, and shares, the flame of irresponsibility thereafter thickens. But the issue here is psychological, not technological.

The current younger generation seems to be going through a crisis in which it looks toward a screen for an identity, and this is where the problem lies. Young people are already irresponsible in general. It does not help that so much importance is now attached to social media and the identities created therein — an attachment that is destructive.

Some may believe that the social media and other apps, such as Vine, where a culture of competitive showmanship is prevalent, should be heavily regulated. However, this also misses the point. To heavily regulate apps and social media defeats their democratic purpose and takes away user agency.

Destructive online behaviour therefore calls for more responsible users and not necessarily the strict policing of the technology itself. It is up to the people to evaluate why we feel the need to participate in absurd challengesantiques to fit in, and that begins with the individual. There needs to be an overall re-evaluation of our relationship with technology as a whole.

Like anything else in life, the freedom offered via the Internet is a two-sided coin, and can do as much good as bad. It is up to the user to be responsible with the power offered to them via technology.

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