2018 started with what seems like the silliest viral “challenge” to ever hit the internet: A bunch of young kids dare each other to chew on one of those Tide laundry pods, perhaps because they are colorful and it’s something dumb, and teenage nature dictates that this is something fun. Videos of people taking this challenge, in which they filmed themselves trying to eat these pods, appeared on YouTube, eventually going viral and prompting the staff of the company to lay down the ax on these kinds of videos. Did YouTube do the right thing? And should the platform be held responsible for such content appearing on its site?
We have to take a moment to look at what YouTube’s policy is on content like this. The guidelines are clear:
- You cannot post videos that encourage others to do dangerous things, like making bombs, choking games or anything that might hurt an individual, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
- If you wish to do something dangerous in a video or display something dangerous, YouTube will allow it to exist on its site as long as it is done for an educational, documentary, scientific, or artistic (EDSA) purpose.
Most “Tide pod challenge” videos posted on the site (perhaps even all of them, but no one has time to browse through all of them) did not meet these guidelines. Yes, many of them didn’t necessarily encourage people to eat a Tide pod, but it was, after all, labeled a “challenge” (much like the “cinnamon challenge” that was so popular in 2012).
And by no means could one say that the challenge videos met EDSA guidelines the way that YouTube would define them.
Further reading of the guidelines by YouTube gives us this:
We are very sensitive to any harmful or dangerous content that involves minors.
Most of the participants are either minors or very young adults. Even if the videos may have been self-recorded, they are, after all, videos of people trying to eat a laundry pod that contains high amounts of ethanol, hydrogen peroxide, potassium hydroxide, and other chemicals that are extraordinarily dangerous to human health. It just wasn’t going to fly by their guidelines.
Should YouTube Be Held Responsible For These Videos?
YouTube is a platform that hosts videos uploaded by what they call “content creators”. These creators are private individuals and organizations who have no affiliation with the company that hosts their videos.
Because of this, it’s difficult to say that YouTube should be held responsible for dangerous videos uploaded to their site. While it may be laudable that they took the initiative to start a campaign that would take all of these Tide pod challenge videos down, if they were left up, this should say more about our attention-grabbing culture than it does about YouTube itself.
One example of this would be the “cinnamon challenge”, which first appeared around 2007, but became wildly popular around 2012. Young men and women were putting spoonfuls of cinnamon in their mouths to see if they could swallow them without coughing. Anyone who has ever cooked with cinnamon knows how challenging this is!
Back then, YouTube did not take the videos down. In the first three months of the year when the challenge exploded in popularity, poison control centers in the U.S. have received hundreds of phone calls related to people attempting to ingest large amounts of cinnamon. This all culminated in the death of a four-year-old boy in 2015 who tried to complete the challenge.
When we look back at this, we may be more inclined to comment about the combination of a proliferation of social media and the attention-seeking component of human nature than we would about YouTube.
What about you? To what extent do you believe that YouTube has responsibility for the content that it allows on its site?