Degenerate generation? •The craze about social media challenges

Trends are not new, as many partake in them for different reasons. However, some of these trends seem to be extreme. FUNMILAYO AREMU speaks with a cross section of Nigerian youths on their perspectives towards such daring trends. 

The social media is always a busy cyber space, patronised on a daily basis by millions of subscribers from around the world, mostly youths, who follow emerging trends as well as entertaining package to amuse themselves. One of the popular entertainment applications is TikTok, which is the now the leading platform for social media challenges.

As youths continue to jump on such challenges, sometimes dangerous to perform, which most times emanate from a song or video, experts have warned that steps must be taken to curb the fad, otherwise there is danger ahead.

Nigerian youths, always trying to keep up with such trends, are also deep into the tiktok challenge. The belief, generally, among the youth is that partaking in the challenges gives quick rise to fame by posting videos with different kinds of content that may eventually go viral.

Findings revealed that some of these viral videos that find their way into the social media space and platforms, such as TikTok and Instagram, have done more damage than good. It was also observed that the original creators of the challenges live in permissive societies where everything goes, unlike the Nigerian society where certain cultural values still guide actions and are being upheld.

Creators of these trends tend to strike a chord of emotion in the hearts of their viewers with their contents thus making them respond with a version of their own. This new social culture is also used by brands and entertainers to make their products, services or agenda, reach a wider audience. This strategy became more prominent during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Nigerian youths, celebrities and students inclusive often jump on these trends by trying to create a better version of the original content. Though some of these challenges have explored various themes ranging from ribald to the grosteque, bringing fun and entertainment, some participants in the challenges often take them to the extreme by giving a dangerous bend.

Through these challenges, a group of young Nigerians, popularly known as IkoroduBoiz, made a name for themselves and even got interviewed on an American television talk show by recreating pictures and videos of celebrities. Other youths have also become famous for their spectacular performances in these social media challenges.


The New Social Media Culture

TikTok is an online  platform, available in 154 countries, which allows users to express themselves in a creative way using the app to create and share short videos with music, filters and other features. The app is most popular amongst youths in their early twenties, otherwise referred to as Generation Z.

Statistics from available media reports show that TikTok has over 1 billion active users globally. Nigeria has approximately 43 million active social media users and is projected to grow to 103 million in 2026. About 31.9 per cent of the Nigerian population use TikTok.

Year 2021 has seen a lot of these trends come and go; as soon as one dies down, a new one appears and the unending cycle continues. From the “Silhouette challenge” where ladies showcased their bodies behind a red filter that covered up their private parts, to the “Shedibalabala” where ladies aggressively shook their behinds to the song by SunkkeySnoop and Toby Shang, the list is endless.

There was also the ‘Crates challenge’ believed to have originated from the United States where wannabe acrobats climbed up and down a high-stacked pyramid of milk crates. Despite the warnings of some medical practitioners on the dangers of the challenge, a few Nigerians also jumped on the challenge showcasing their gymnastic skills. Investigation by Sunday Tribune revealed that some of the participants sustained injuries from their fall.

Then came the ‘Alcohol challenge’ that started after the popular singer, Joeboy, released his song entitled Alcohol. This challenge had participants record themselves while drinking alcohol and other liquid food. Some participants took the challenge to the extreme when they started ingesting and pouring harmful substances on their bodies like palm oil, milk, hypo bleach, dirty sewage water and even inhaling cooking gas from a cylinder.  

Recently, several videos of some youths engaging in the alcohol challenge went viral. One of such is that of a young lady who drank a bottle containing an antiseptic liquid while dancing to the popular ‘Alcohol’ song by Joeboy. The lady was later seen vomiting a whitish substance as her friends tried to resuscitate her.

This sparked quite a number of reactions from the viewing public; many wondered why she had to drink an antiseptic liquid in an alcohol challenge. The dangerous turn that the challenge took made the singer issue a disclaimer on his social media platforms saying “While I appreciate the love you guys are showing for my song, do not consume any harmful substances.”

Seeing that the challenge trend was going out of hand, one of the social media platforms, tiktok announced the prohibition of harmful contents and asked participants to take caution. “tiktok prohibits content that promotes or glorifies dangerous acts, and we remove videos and redirect searches to our community guidelines to discourage such content. We encourage everyone to exercise caution in their behaviour whether online or off,” the company said.

Although opinions vary, Sunday Tribune spoke with a cross section of social media users on these challenges and their impacts. 

According to a graphics designer, TosinOlaniyan, he once participated in a Company Logo Challenge where graphics designers were asked to create logos for a company. He, and many other youths created a number of logos and submitted them to the company for evaluation. In the end, it was the logo with the most likes that won

In his words, “it was a very thrilling experience for me; I had to think outside the box. I waited for about three or four other participants to present their work before putting my idea together to create something good. Though I was among the top ten, I didn’t win the challenge eventually.”

According to Olaniyan, there had been other challenges like where people show their culinary and fashion skills, among others.


Why the challenges are hot

Investigation by Sunday Tribune revealed that a large number of participants engage in this trend because of peer pressure which tends to push them to the extreme as they begin to look for desperate ways to calm themselves. While some engage in smoking and other social vices, others simply take solace in the momentary succour that the internet provides. As quick as the internet takes them on a ride, some of them usually end up giving out more than expected.

Rap star and founder of YBNL music label, Olamide, in one of his popular songs, once admitted to experimenting with different vices at one time when he was almost losing his mind but social media  was his saving grace as it offered him the needed distraction. According to him, he had lost his parents and his world was collapsing around him, thus he needed a distraction like many Nigerian youths to keep himself sane. So he quickly hugged the social media.

Mahmoud Baffa, is also of the opinion that social media is a tool for keeping one’s sanity in Nigeria.  According to him, “In this generation, social media itself is like the seasoning in our food. It’s naturally not necessary but then, honestly, can you imagine your food without it? It’s an avenue through which we ease our boredom and stress, God knows that’s important in this country,” he said.

The saying that an idle hand is the devil’s workshop’ is apt today as Sunday Tribune findings revealed that a majority of the participants of the dangerous challenges have too much free time on their hands which is why they resort to filling up their time by hugging the social media. 

An entrepreneur, Godwin Ogbomo, who spoke with Sunday Tribune on the issue said “One factor that might have propelled this act is unemployment; a person who is employed and busy would not have the time to engage in acts that don’t promote social values. This is what people celebrate these days; they no longer have time for things that will empower them and make meaningful contributions to their lives, but they are quick to make time for things that they feel would entertain them in a way.

“Many people consider this as entertainment, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t contribute anything morally to their lives and doesn’t add knowledge; then one would begin to wonder if they were properly brought up, because a person who was well brought up and has dreams to pursue will not engage in things or hobbies that cause him moral damage.”

Ironically, unemployment doesn’t seem the major problem as findings by Sunday Tribune revealed that most of the youths engage in some of the challenges for fame and subsequently do more daring or controversial ones to maintain their fame.

According to Baffa, “They do it for the clout and clout they shall get. I just hope the consequences are worth the likes and momentary fame. It is really sad that a significant portion of society has taken it to such extreme levels. I personally never liked these challenges to begin with, because Nigerians always have a knack for taking things too far. The silhouette challenge was unfortunate, yet wasn’t very surprising looking at how immorality is glorified as being liberal. As for the dangerous ones like crates and alcohol challenge, my people have a saying “jikinmagayi” meaning ‘the body will tell later.’”

Given this scenario, there seems to be a psychological bent to these social media blitz. Ayodeji Alabi, a real estate consultant, believes so when he shared his thoughts with Sunday Tribune.

“All I can say is many Nigerian youths are suffering from quite a lot of mental health related issues. If not, why would a sane person decide to climb a stack of crates, after seeing the possible outcome of falling off and having a severe head injury that might cost him some serious damages or even loss of life?

“It is unbelievable that someone would still go ahead to prove an insane point just to get a short-lived fame or publicity at the expense of losing one’s life or dignity.

“Now we have the alcohol challenge and the so-called literate and sane people are seen drinking bleach, antiseptics, and even sewage water! That’s serious madness. In Yoruba land, we call such people “wèrèaláṣọ” (a mad person who looks sane). Think of it; if such persons are not mad or having serious mental illness, why would they even think of taking part in that sort of challenge?” he opined.

A psychiatrist at the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos State, Dr. Moyo Maitanmi, believes that there is a need for people to feel like belonging to a group, to feel accepted and to fit into their society, thus they do things that get them noticed.

“We live in a world where people want to be seen, to be noticed; there is a need to fit in, to feel among, almost everyone has this trait. The need to be accepted and all these stems to the social issue; everyone wants to be seen, to be seen as being trendy, being popular and all.

“People with low self-esteem, peer pressure, low IQ, and what we call hero-worship or celebrity-worship often find themselves doing these things, like taking part in a challenge, jumping at every trending habit just because they want to feel accepted; they want to belong and fit into the social system.

“Those who engage in these thrills already have underlying mental problems that might not be known to them; some people are battling with depression, and depression can make you do some weird and risky things,” he explained.

Another psychiatry expert, Doctor OmolaraeniOwootomo noted that people do things for different reasons. Though she never took part in any of the challenges, she said some people jump at every challenge due to their kind of person or nature.

“Boredom, sense of inclusiveness, for fun, and yes, stupidity for the apparently dangerous ones; you cannot stop people from doing things really, due to issues of freedom of expression. So. These things will always happen and people will always come up with something.

“And one thing I have noticed is that these things happen when it seems like ‘social media is boring and silent’; then someone feels ‘let us spice things up and create a buzz’ and boom, some stupid challenge pops up. One thing worthy of note, though, is that not all these challenges are dangerous, but most are. That is most likely a case of trying to feel accepted by the society with some sort of psychiatric illness, most likely depression or bipolar disease,” she explained.

It is apparent that some of these social trends promote anti-social activities. According to AyodejiAlabi, “morals, culture and sanity fade as the days go by, and if care is not taken, the future generations will grow up to lack morals.

“Nudity without remorse all over the internet in the name of a silhouette challenge and lots of public exhibitions of nudity is now the new normal. In those days, private things are kept private and even the fear of it coming out into the open sends cold chills down one’s spine, but not anymore,” he lamented.

On what should be done to counter negative social media cultures and trends, Ogbomo advised that youths should take up more innovative challenges. He recommended that “It is time to wake up and engage in things that are relevant and impactful.  When BBNaija came up, I saw a lot of people being excited about it; some people watch the show till midnight and these same people won’t be able to read a book for 30 minutes. I don’t play games because I feel like the developer of the game spent his time developing it, then I would waste my time playing the game instead of using my time to do something productive.

“So, it is high time youths woke up if we don’t want to ruin this generation and the coming one. Some people even get injured from engaging in these challenges. Let us take up the challenge of how to be better, how to help people rise, and how to become role models.”

In his own case, Ayodeji believes that youths are being taken advantage of and the trend won’t stop until they start prioritizing their lives.

“The summary of all these is that our youths lack priority, and this is one thing our leaders are taking advantage of, and if care is not taken, they will keep taking advantage of that fact till kingdom come. With the rate at which things are going in this generation, only God can save us because it is now out of hand, and to change this, there is a need for a total reorientation of the youth,” he noted.

Dr. Maitanmi, in his opinion, said the youth especially need to caution themselves against the kind of trends they follow.

“There is the need to create an awareness about involving the danger of partaking in these things. It is not everything that people need to jump at; some challenges are suicidal in nature, just like the crate challenge. Some challenges promote nudity just like the silhouette challenge; some are mild in nature posing no harm and people do it for the fun of it. We need to find a way to balance between what goes around and our mental health,” he stated.

However, though balance is good and could engender moderation, the younger generation it will appear, is not fixated on doing things in moderation. In fact the excess of everything, according to some of them, is what drives them, just like the new challenges that come up everyday.


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