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04 Feb 2014

Age is no barrier to social influence

Posted on February 4, 2014 by

It was with some horror that I logged on to my Facebook account at the end of last week to see a video of a friend – who I normally meet in the school playground as we are both laden down with book bags, PE kits and scooters – stood in her kitchen pouring out a pint of wine, adding some chilli sauce, soy sauce and a generous helping of pepper and then downing the contents.

Welcome to the latest social media craze sweeping Facebook.

Unless you’ve been living in some social media bubble, Necknominate is spreading like wildfire across Facebook and YouTube.

The rules are simple. If you get ‘Necknominated’ by someone, you must film yourself ‘necking’ something alcoholic, invariably while performing a stunt, and then nominate two other people.

Necknomination, which acts like an online video-linked chain mail, originated in Australia, from where it has spread to the US, UK and Ireland.

Images of people necking pints whilst wielding chainsaw, staging fake kidnappings and dressing in outrageous outfits are just some of the videos currently clogging up news feeds across the globe.

The UK Facebook page has had over 60,000 likes since 24th January and the number of videos being posted on YouTube is increasing at a rate of knots.

But the crazy attempts to ‘out stunt’ others have sadly now meant that the viral phenomenon has moved offline and hit the mainstream media following the death of a teenager  and another man in his early 20s in Ireland.

While people are campaigning to get Facebook and YouTube to help stop this craze by banning the videos and closing sites down, the other side of the argument suggests that surely it is down to individuals to take a greater degree of responsibility for their own actions?

Facebook has rejected calls to ban pages and videos linked to the Necknomination craze, saying “controversial or offensive behaviour is not necessarily against our rules”.

What has struck me most is just how extreme an example this is of the influence that social media can have over an individual’s behaviour. These new trends emphasise how social media and online spaces have now become prevalent in influencing both decision making and how people interact with each other.

We’ve heard about ‘trolling’ and the effect of cyber bullying, particularly amongst young people, but these are “grown-ups” responding to peer pressure.

Lots of people are defending this by saying it’s harmless fun and just a drinking game where you simply have to use your common sense, but at what point does common sense come into this?

I’ve been thinking about what I would have done had I been ‘nominated’ and whether my reaction would have been different depending on which of my Facebook friends had nominated me. And to be honest, whilst my reaction would still be one of horror at such a stupid idea, I would have hesitated slightly had it been someone who I would have to face the next morning at the school gate – did I want to be the mum whose no fun?.

A recent study by the Webby Awards has shown that social media has democratised influence and that social media platforms really do allow people to influence the behaviour and purchasing activities of their connections.

The results of the study conclude that the decades-old marketing insight of word-of-mouth being the most powerful form of marketing is still alive and well.

If there’s one thing the Necknominate craze has shown me it’s that peer pressure and word-of-mouth still remains a powerful force in influencing people’s behaviour – irrespective of age and maturity – and we forget that at our peril.

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