Going viral: how the internet caught a cold

By Nina Folland, Oliver Venning, Ethan Kings

How many viral challenge videos have you seen recently? How many of those had the potential to go horribly wrong? Probably a lot more than you’d think. Scarily, an online challenge game known as ‘Blue Whale’ has reportedly claimed around 130 deaths in Russia alone. Even scarier still, 99% of parents are completely oblivious to the dangerous challenges that their children are getting into.

Various videos that have been posted on the internet have been circling for a while, however in recent years, they have become a more fundamental part of children’s lives with the rise of social media and their increasing ability to access it. Scientifically, older children and teenagers are more prone to manipulation online through emotional contagion – where emotions spread like a disease and can be considered contagious.

The emotional part of the brain, the amygdala, literally turns on in response to a video or challenge that they find amusing. It replaces the responses from the logical part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) due to it being underdeveloped within this age group.

Even simply the title ‘challenge’ encourages people to take part due to the idea that a challenge could end in reward. The manipulation factor, along with the emotional response and the lack of rational thinking leads to people becoming drawn into doing things that they wouldn’t usually do if it weren’t a challenge.
It’s not all suicide and injury though. Some well celebrity-endorsed challenges such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and fitness challenges like the 50 Day Squat Challenge endorse positivity and raise awareness for causes on a mass scale. However, these aren’t attracting as much attention because, psychologically, we as a collective prefer negative media and respond more aggressively and incessantly to videos we find angering; like mob culture – people like to jump on bandwagons, whether it has relevance to their lives or not.

You’ve most likely seen more viral challenge videos than you can count recently, and it’s more than likely that some of them have gone horribly wrong. After all, collective sadism is in right now.

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