Published on February 24th, 2014 | by Sean McKee0
Lad culture’s last standAs young people across the country die or are injured after playing the online drinking challenge known as Neknominate, ALN’s Sean McKee asks if this is a joke that has got way out of hand.
The power of social media enables trends to become popular pretty quickly. The latest craze to spread like wildfire on Facebook is Neknominate, which has caused widespread concern amongst campaigners and is forcing youth culture to re-examine attitudes towards alcohol consumption.
Originally a craze that started in Australia, Neknominate has quickly become the first new word of 2014. The official Facebook page for the craze, Neknominate, describes the rules of the game as ‘neck your drink. Nominate another. Don’t break the chain, don’t be a d*ck.’ To simplify it, the game involves the nominated person downing a drink – normally alcoholic but can be a mixture of unusual liquids.
Once completed they then have to nominate someone on their friend list with a challenge, which creates a chain across the site and helps the game to spread – the aim of each nomination is to outdo your nominator.
However, although Neknominate’s Facebook Mission Statement is, ‘To prove that drinking and tomfoolery can still be fun and is for everyone’, what started out as an innocent game amongst circles of friends has sparked an outcry against dangerous drinking after some tragic incidents which have made national news.
The case of missing York St John University student, Megan Roberts, has involved police searching the rivers, after footage from CCTV shows the student may have fallen or jumped into a river after a night out.
Although there is no indication so far that Roberts may have been intoxicated from playing this game, two deaths have occurred in Dublin as a result of playing it. In particular, the death of Jonny Byrne, 19, who was playing Neknominate before plunging into a river and drowning, bears a striking resemblance to what police say may have happened to Roberts.
The second Dublin death, hours before Byrne, was Dublin DJ, Ross Cummins, 22. His popularity on the site has caused concern about just how quickly the ‘challenges’ set on each nomination can get drastically out of hand.
Facebook has so far resisted calls to delete or block any material associated with the craze, claiming the videos do not break any of its regulations on harmful content. Its in-house rules define harmful content as ‘organising world violence, theft, property destruction or something that directly inflicts emotional distress’.
Their stance prompted the Irish Republic’s Communications Minister, Pat Rabbitte, to urge young people not to fall for a “stupid ruse”.
However, the brother of Jonny Byrne, Patrick, claims that the ‘game’ has actually become ‘a form of bullying’. In an interview with The Telegraph, Patrick admitted that he was with Jonny when he went into the river: “I jumped in to try and save him and I had him nearly out, but he broke free from me and pushed me under the water, and I was nearly gone; my girlfriend and a passer-by jumped in and pulled me out.
“People are now just doing stupid acts to try to better each other,” he said. “A guy who turned down a challenge last week was called a chicken and a coward for turning it down. Basically what it has turned into now is a bullying competition.”
Following the two deaths in Ireland, MEAS, an alcohol industry-funded body, has also warned people of the risks involved in partaking in the activity.
“I am asking young people to consider both the risk to their own health and also if they would really want to be the nominator of a friend who takes up their challenge and, in doing so, harms them,” MEAS chief executive, Fionnuala Sheehan said in a statement.
Recent ‘challenges’ have seen certain levels of obscenity not usually seen on the heavily audited social media site. One that went viral involved a member of the military, presumably at his base, defecate into a protein shaker and mix his excrement with whisky and numerous condiments before downing its contents. Visibly shaking and gagging throughout the process, the video also sees the unnamed man’s friends cheering him on as he chokes down the last of the concoction.Another viral video that is equally as troubling to watch is that of a man in a bathtub, drinking a mixture, vomiting it back up into his glass, then drinking it again. This man was again visibly traumatised and continued to vomit while drinking the regurgitated drink. He was left covered in vomit and choking by the end.
While these cases are extreme, experts are worried that these videos may cause others to try and replicate them and potentially cause serious injury, severe drunken states or even more deaths.
The most recent tragedy that the ‘game’ is “heavily linked” to is that of 20-year-old Bradley Eames. He died a number of days after downing two pints of gin – equivalent to 30 shots – in a matter of seconds. A police spokeswoman said: “The post mortem was inconclusive so further tests will now be carried out to establish a cause of death.”
A spokesman for alcohol charity, Kaleidoscope, said two pints of gin was “a massive amount”. He added: “It takes your body around an hour to process each unit of alcohol so, if it is 37 units, that would take 37 hours to be metabolised and leave your body.
“Government guidelines for alcohol consumption say 21 units a week for the average adult male. Here people are having more than that in one or two minutes. They are overloading their bodies. Two pints of gin is a very dangerous amount of alcohol. It is playing Russian roulette.”
Alcohol Action has warned about the online craze, saying: “Drinking large volumes of alcohol in a short period of time can have very real consequences.”
Some UAL students have got in on the action as well. The involvement of our Sports societies is well documented on their Facebook pages, however it does seem to be all light-hearted tomfoolery, as the founders of the game suggest it should be.
However one LCC student, choosing to remain anonymous, claims that her Friday night out with friends a few weeks back was ruined by Neknominate.
“My friends chose me at the end of our chain of five other people. I decided that rather than nominate someone else to outdo me, I’d drink the mother of all drinks and win it and put an end to it.”
“I was nominated the night before and hadn’t eaten all day as I knew I was going out that night, which I know is really bad anyway.”
The student decided to make a jug of alcohol that contained vodka, rum, whisky, shots, milk, various condiments, and even Absinthe: “I remember choking with every swallow. I didn’t think I’d be able to keep it down while my friends cheered me on and filmed it on my iPhone,” she said.
Thinking she got off lightly, the 20-year-old then decided to venture out to a local club in Stoke Newington with her friends, where things started to go downhill. “I’m surprised I made it into the club. I remember nothing of being there, but my friends found me passed out in the toilets, and security had to lift me out and leave me lying on the pavement outside. They even contemplated ringing an ambulance, thinking I was on drugs.”
Although she now regrets going so far with the game, the student says she understands the fun element.
“Obviously I didn’t expect to get hurt from the game, but my friends and I had loads of fun that week filming each other doing our nominations, and it really was just innocent fun until we took it too far. I don’t think I could be that irresponsible again, and I’ll definitely be eating before I start to drink every time now.”
“I remember choking with every swallow. I didn’t think I’d be able to keep it down while my friends cheered me on and filmed it on my iPhone.” LCC Student
Facebook has released a statement saying it was reviewing videos linked to the craze, but said that the posting of such material is not a breach of its rules or “community standards”.
The statement said the social network “aims to be a platform for people to share freely whilst still protecting the rights of others”.
A good way for students and other young people to ensure this remains the case is to always drink responsibly and, if they really must do it, ensure their Neknominate challenges don’t get out of hand.
Presented by: Kyle Meyr
Filmed by: Tim Greensmith
Edited by: Kyle Meyr