The digital environment in which we are currently immersed has completely transformed the way in which we relate or interact. The disappeared Tuenti, or Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp have changed our lives, becoming common platforms to communicate with friends and family. In addition, entertainment is also an Internet thing and, in recent years, TikTok has stood out among all.
Creating, editing and uploading short music selfies is all the rage now. To this end, the platform was born which, given the importance and massive use of the Internet by adolescents, above all, has emerged as the perfect means to carry out the so-called viral challenges or ‘challenges’.
Jessica Ortega, a member of the UNIR Cyberpsychology Research Group and an expert in viral challenges on the Internet, defines them as “actions that users propose (dances, jokes, challenges…) and record for others to see and reproduce. Thus, depending on the interest it arouses, it becomes viral due to the massive diffusion of the Internet and the tendency of human beings to imitate the behavior of others, especially in adolescence.
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This research group was already studying the phenomenon of challenges before the pandemic, “but after confinement there was a massive demand for TikTok, becoming the star network in 2020 with more than 115.2 million downloads. It is made to succeed. They are short videos, highly personalized, with infinite and changing themes. So there is no room for boredom”, perfect characteristics to succeed among teenagers.
Most are harmless, but more and more challenges arise that can endanger the physical and psychological integrity of people, many of them minors. “Adolescence is a stage of sensation seeking, of meeting new people, and viral challenges allow you to do both. In this phase, friends are the most important thing and family takes a backseat”, explains Jessica, which is why young people record challenges with the aim of being valued by their group of friends, so as not to feel excluded and because of popularity. Because now, popularity is measured in ‘likes’, followers and comments.
From the Cyberpsychology area of UNIR they classify the challenges as social, which occupy 80.3 percent and do not entail any risk, “they are those that are recorded for fun, such as the Chicken Teriyaki Challenge dance from Rosalía’s song”; solidarity (20.6 percent), which are aimed at raising awareness and helping. This would be the case of the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’, which was popularized years ago to raise awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; and finally, and what is most worrying, the simultaneous realization of harmless social challenges together with dangerous challenges (15.3 percent).
Lo damos todo jaja 🤣 #chickenteriyaki @La Rosalia ❤️
Among the most prominent in recent months are the ’48 hours disappeared’, which consists of disappearing without a trace for two days, or ‘El cascarón’, in which users eat all kinds of food in the shell (eggs, candies with the wrapping…), with the risk of obstruction and suffocation that this type of behavior entails.
But what are the motivations that encourage young people to get involved in the challenges, putting the culture of ‘like’ above life? “They don’t have the ability to really think about the risks. This desire to experience new sensations leads them to act impulsively without falling into the consequences. If you put on a scale being popular and having many ‘likes’ even if something bad happens, it compensates them ».
According to Jessica, adolescents do not have that reflective capacity and «this is precisely the work we are doing from prevention and critical thinking. Because it’s not about doing viral challenges for no reason, but rather thinking about whether it’s better not to do it, if it hurts you, hurts another person, makes you feel bad, makes another person feel bad, incites hatred… “.
And to develop this type of reflection, it is essential to carry out prevention work from all fronts, both at home and at school. “If you don’t give adolescents certain guidelines, they can be lost, which is why we work with various programs in schools.” As for families, Jessica advises using networks with young people. “We are giving them technology but without educating them to use it correctly. It would be very positive to use the platforms to indicate what they can and cannot do or should do. Set some rules with them.
Because the networks are not harmful, neither is TikTok. In fact, there are studies that confirm its positive effect on education. “There are certain challenges that consist of solving mathematical problems or answering questions about geography or general culture… In the end, everything depends on the use that is given to it.” This expert also recommends putting yourself in their place because “from our perspective we are not going to understand it. It is essential to ensure the well-being of minors through education, communication, awareness and prevention, but more than worrying, we must take care of ourselves».
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