Flames shoot off the body of a fearless teenage boy as friends gather around to encourage him. The boy screams out in agony as the heat of the fire begins to ignite his bare skin. Unable to deal with witnessing their friend being burned, onlookers yell for him to jump under the showerhead. He obliges but continues to curse as the cool water hits his chest. What happens next is a mystery. The YouTube video ends and the boy disappears from the screen. This is the fire challenge.
The fire challenge, which involves lighting yourself on fire, filming it and posting it on YouTube, has gone viral. In recent years, YouTube has become a popular source of video challenges instigated through social media. With nearly 1 billion users, a YouTube video can be viewed by hundreds in less than seconds after posting. Easy sharing and access to videos make these dares compelling to people who want to impress their peers.
SAS senior Michaela Santillo believes, “Social media is definitely causing teenagers to feel the pressure to do the challenge. If they didn’t have a place to post it, they wouldn’t do it.”
Sadly, teens who feel pressure to reach as many “likes” as possible are willing do almost anything. But competing in these challenges has major consequences.
The danger of online challenges is not limited to making the video. Participants and onlookers of the fire challenge have faced serious consequences that the camera fails to capture. According to North Carolina Police Records, Janie Lachelle Talley, a 41 year old mother, was charged with “contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile” for helping her 16-year-old son compete in the fire challenge. Talley was arrested in August and went to trial on Oct. 2.
Even more alarming are the injuries participants sustain from lighting themselves on fire. Many of the victims have been rushed to the hospital because of life-threatening injuries. A 15-year-old boy from Kentucky suffered second degree burns after pouring alcohol on his body and setting himself on fire in order to compete in the challenge. Another 15-year-old boy died from the challenge.
Clearly, participants of daring online challenges do not realize the repercussions they will face. When the camera is turned off and the fire is put out, the fun is over and the consequences emerge. YouTube and Facebook are beginning to remove these videos from their websites in an attempt to stop the challenges from spreading.
However, the removal of these videos has not done much to stop the challenge. Kelly Cordes, senior, feels that “before social media people wouldn’t have been able to find these challenges. The internet has definitely heightened the amount of peer pressure teens feel to compete in the challenge.”
Unfortunately, as the fire challenge fades, more online dares continue to emerge. The cold water challenge is another example of dangerous stunts performed on camera. The challenge involves someone jumping into either frozen or freezing cold water and swimming back to shore. Just like the fire challenge, it has caused serious injuries and even death. Recently, online challenges have increased in popularity and as long as social media is around, these challenges are here to stay.