Won’t someone think of the children? Why media coverage of neknominations is wide of the mark

Another day, another 11.6 billion Euros, as social media giant Facebook recently bought mobile messaging app WhatsApp. While the general reaction among younger users is “That’s a lot of money, WhatsApp is fantastic though”, the general reaction among older people (namely most people out of their mid-thirties) has been “What the hell is WhatsApp?” 

The purchase of WhatsApp for such a huge sum certainly merits a talking point, no question. But the media reaction, of: “WhatsA WhatsApp?” highlights the fact that when it comes to social media, mainstream news is being increasingly left behind.

Nowhere has this been shown better in recent weeks than in the media frenzy to the ‘neknominations’ viral videos on Facebook. While some may regard further discussion of neknominations as flogging a dead horse with another, bigger, longer deceased horse, the reaction to it is worth analysing, as it provides a window into one of the problems with mainstream media in the country.

Early reports on neknominations were slightly confused. The initial aim of the game was to film the user downing a single pint of beer, and then nominate two friends to do the same thing, theoretically making it one of the safest drinking games on earth (drinking a pint of beer has recently been found to help hydrate you after a workout. Truly, a terrifying killer).

WATCH: Although most stuck to one pint, some people did take the trend farther, such as this gentlemen who ‘necked’ three drinks instead of one.

RTE proclaimed that it involved “people being nominated to drink large amounts of alcohol and post a video online”, while the Irish Independent worried that “Many agencies for young people have raised concerns about the competitive nature of the game and its potential for cyber-bullying.” Both of these statements are sheer speculation, with little basis in fact.

However, this didn’t stop the media hand-wringing from reaching a zenith during a Prime Time debate. Chaired by Miriam O’Callaghan, it focused on the type of person who would be most likely to taking part in the social media craze.

The talking heads on Prime Time fretting about the evils of drinking
The talking heads on Prime Time fretting about the evils of drinking

With little evidence to back up their assertions, both Miriam and the expert talking head on the panel concluded that only people who were susceptible to online ‘peer pressure’ would be unable to resist the dreaded call of the insatiable social media mob and would buckle in the face of online pressure when nominated.

LISTEN: Miriam asks expert psychologist Barabara Dooley (who admits there is no research on neknominations) whether people are being ‘preyed on’ online

The debate almost descends into farce when they are joined by Minister of State for the Environment Jan O’Sullivan, who said that she would “urge Facebook to take the page down”, which was met with very serious head nods from Miriam, who countered with the wise observation that “the problem with something like this, with neknominations on Facebook, is it’s everywhere. So how do Facebook take it down in a sense because you’ve got to take down so many conversations?” Both seemed to be seconds from breaking down and screaming “But won’t someone please think of the children???”

LISTEN: Full interview with Housing Minister Jan O’Sullivan, who emphasized how much she ‘urged Facebook to take the page down’.

The fact that there is no one “page” to take down seemed to have eluded the Minister, although no one found fit to correct her of that fact. Similarly, no one may have informed Miriam, but the viral videos being posted had very little to do with “conversations”.

While we won’t get into a minute breakdown of the structure of Facebook here, suffice to say that neknominations mostly consisted of individual users posting videos on their own profiles, leading to thousands of videos across thousands of ‘pages’, meaning that there is not just a single one that Facebook can isolate.

Most of the population under the age of 30 watching the spectacularly uninformed debate would have been fully aware of this fact, and would no doubt have been left groaning under the weight of incorrect information being supplied as fact.

The Prime Time debate is merely a snapshot of a debate which is itself a snapshot of a wider issue, being: if the media doesn’t know how social media works, how can they be expected to explain it to us?

Watch the full Prime Time debate here. Section on neknominations begins at 17.55.


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