When the Neknominate online dare craze allegedly claimed the life of a 19-year-old man, Twitter and Facebook users weren’t afraid to speak out for and against the phenomenon.
The death also reignited the debate of how much or how little Facebook and other networking sites can and should interfere with controversial content.
Twitter was the venue for highly polarised reactions to a Coca-Cola commercial that aired during the Super Bowl on Sunday. The commercial featured people of diverse ethnicities and sexual orientations singing the patriotic song “America the Beautiful” in different languages. Some tweeters called the multi-lingual ad anti-American, some called for a Coke boycott and others went as far as saying the company was promoting terrorism.
Social media commentator and digital strategist Kate Carruthers weighed in on the ways the two stories have impacted people on and offline.
NekNominate and its pay-it-forward counterpart
Facebook responded to requests to take down pages that promote NekNominate from the website by saying – if it doesn’t cause direct harm, we don’t take it down – but Ms Carruthers says Facebook is just sticking to their guns and acting in accordance with their guidelines.
“Facebook very much takes the view that it operates within the law. [Neknominate] is not an illegal activity and why should it intervene. Yes, it’s foolhardy activity but there’s lots of foolhardy activity online. Why should a company like them be responsible for that?”
COMMENT: #neknomination. Internet has changed the drinking game
Ms Carruthers says the kind of behaviour that can be seen in NekNominate videos has been happening for years – the culture of binge drinking is nothing new – it just hasn’t been posted and shared online. Although Neknominate may have dangerous consequences for some, Ms Carruthers says there are limits to what people can do to stop it.
“Yes we can warn them of the dangers, but being young people, they will typically ignore us older folks. But we can and ought to provide alternative information.”
The focus in the last day or so has shifted from videos of people binge drinking to a movement started by a South African man who dares others to do some good. Brent Lindeque posted a YouTube video of himself donating food to impoverished South Africans and nominating his friends to do similar acts of kindness. Ms Carruthers says this is a much more profitable response to Neknominate.
“Suddenly we’re amplifying the good instead of stupidity. That’s a much more effective strategy than just preaching at people saying ‘this is dumb, you shouldn’t do it.'”
“[Social media] is a force multiplier for both good and evil. It takes just that one person to start shifting the trend away from the negative behaviour towards positive behaviour,” Ms Carruthers says.
Coca-Cola divides America
Social media has become a crucial platform for people to share polarised views. One of the most poignant examples of this in the past few weeks has been the reaction toward Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl commercial.
People took to Twitter to compliment the ad on its heartfelt representation of America’s diversity while others thought the multilingualism was offensive to English speaking Americans.
There are over 300 indigenous languages in the US alone. English isn’t one of them. #coke
— Khaetlyn Grindell (@Khaetlyn) February 3, 2014
#BoycottCoke everything in that @CocaCola commercial was un-American.
— Steven McVeigh (@SMcVeigh_) February 3, 2014
“Twitter is not a good representation of public opinion because it’s not a broad swathe of public opinion, it tends to represent extreme views very often and they take very extreme opposing positions quite quickly,” says Carruthers. “There are very few moderates when you see something like this on Twitter.”
Tweets may not reflect the true American society, but it can serve as a big influencer that can make or break brands. In this case, however, Ms Carruthers says she doesn’t expect a widespread Coca-Cola boycott to take place.
“The number of people who will actually take action on that will probably be very small. So the impact of coke as a brand from their sales would be negligible would be my suspicion.”
It’s easy to forget that regardless of the effect Coca-Cola’s ad may have had on people, the company’s bottom line is to sell their product. What’s important for them and for those who Neknominate, for that matter, is that they’ve gotten people talking – and that’s really all that matters.