Tide Pods: From laundry to brainwashing

Social media challenges highlight a deeper issue within today’s meme culture

Over the last three weeks, a new challenge has emerged on social media called the “Tide Pod Challenge.” It quickly became a meme online, as many people made jokes about eating the colourful detergent packets. Despite the danger and the laundry brand telling people not to eat the pods, many people—mostly teenagers—continue to videotape themselves eating Tide Pods.

The first time I heard about a challenge on social media was the 2014 Ice Bucket Challenge, and it was for a good cause. Since then, many new dares have emerged on the internet, and in my opinion, many of them are stupid. With the Tide Pod Challenge specifically, teenagers record themselves biting into the packets in order to gain views, recognition and popularity on social media.

You’re probably reading this thinking the same thing as me: this challenge is just stupid and dangerous. People are ingesting toxins by intentionally eating Tide Pods. In 2017, before the challenge even began, more than 10,500 children under the age of five and 220 teens were exposed to Tide Pods, and about 25 per cent of those cases were intentional, according to the Washington Post.

Perhaps we can understand why very young children might be attracted to the colour and the pleasant smell of Tide Pods, but I for one cannot understand why a teenager—who can make reasonable choices—is compelled to do the same. So why are they doing this? I believe I might have an answer.

Recently, our society has entered an era characterised by social media and meme culture. This facet of culture has been defined by Richard Dawkins, in his book The Selfish Gene, as “an element of a culture or system of behaviour that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by non-genetic means, especially imitation.” In today’s culture, memes and social media are the diffusers of ideas within the online world, and they are limitless. Anyone can find anything on any subject online. It is a beautiful and useful tool, or a dangerous one—especially for people who are easily influenced, such as teenagers.

The problem is that, in our era of social media, the border between public and private life is slowly being erased. Every time we log on to a social media platform, such as Instagram or Facebook, we see people sharing idealistic pictures and videos of their everyday lives.

Even if most social media users understand that these perfect images do not reflect real life, I believe many teenagers can be influenced by these people, which lead them to constantly pursue views, likes and perfection online.

These teenagers, therefore, will follow a trend not because it is something they think is valuable and useful, but because they think it is the first step to celebrity and popularity. However, reality often catches up to them, but perhaps too late, when their lives are endangered. They hope to become celebrities, but often become known on a small scale, limited to their neighbourhood news or the emergency medical services.

Fortunately, Tide has quickly reacted to the challenge by creating advertisements that show the dangerous effects of eating their products. Yet it doesn’t seem to be enough as more intentional cases of Tide Pod ingestion are reported every day (already 39 since the beginning of the year, 91 per cent of which were intentional), according to the Washington Post.

I believe social media perpetuates meme culture, and teenagers in this culture suffer potential brainwashing from online trends. Unfortunately, most teenagers today cannot be themselves without thinking about what they have to do in order to be liked and loved in their virtual community.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth 

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