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The ‘neknomination’ craze has swept across social media feeds throughout the country as individuals’ film themselves downing an alcoholic drink, before nominating others to match them. Initially a mildly humorous viral challenge, it has come under strong criticism due to a number of recent deaths, with five people thought to have paid the ultimate price for trying to outdo their friends. What began as a relatively harmless form of camaraderie has quickly developed dangerous and extreme elements, with the most daring nominations quickly going viral, granting the challenger their moment in the social media spotlight.  Increasingly dangerous and revolting concoctions have included pints of spirits, raw eggs and live animals.

The backlash has been a not all together unpredictable. There has been talk of banning videos from Facebook, and even charging those making what turn out to be lethal nominations with manslaughter charges. Such measures would do little to prevent extreme cases arising. Prohibition, on whatever scale, is rarely successful, and often counterintuitive. The responsibility in deciding what one has to drink is surely to be left to the individual. The threat of legal penalty shouldn’t be necessary to prevent people from making potentially deadly nominations or indeed from taking part in them. Moreover punishing the sensible on account of the stupid is unfair and problematic.

There’s nothing wrong with sharing drinks with friends – and many neknominations are a online take on that, with a little bit of banter thrown in for good measure. However the problem lies in the willingness to carelessly cross the boundaries of personal safety and dignity in an attempt to prove something to others about your character.Such behavior certainly demandssome sort of scrutiny.

To look at phenomenon more closely is to see something more deep-rooted than a dangerous internet craze that’s popped up out of the blue; it’s a reflection of our worrying cultural attitude towards alcohol.  I’m talking about something that goes far beyond a fondness for afternoons spent at the pubs or a few drink before the match. It’s an outlook amongst an increasing number of young people in this country that equates one’s inclination to have a good time and enjoy themselves, with how much they’re willing to drink.

It’s a way of thinking that permeates our finest academic institutions as well as our toughest council estates. In fact one could argue that this notion has become a hallmark of higher education culture in the UK. Drinking games are an integral aspect of university life, and with it the consumption of large quantities of alcohol have become normalized. In institutions across the country, people partake in evenings of intense drinking which can include knocking back double-figures worth of pints in very short spaces of time. A culture has emerged that places great value on one’s ability and willingness to drink.  The combination of social media trends, peer pressure, and this cultural attitude towards alcohol, makes the extreme evolution of Neknomination somewhat unsurprising. It is a reflection of a wider societal issue.

Perhaps the craze also says something about our collective understanding of the dangers of alcohol. While many aware of the risks on a purely intellectual level, an appreciation of the very real dangers the substance poses are often reserved for the unstable alcoholic or than the ‘normal’ drinker who’s just up for a good time. And yet, taking it a step too far is a more likely mistake with alcohol than many other drugs, legal or illegal. The lethal dose is around 10 times the effective dose (the amount it takes to get you drunk basically), compared to 16 times for MDMA, and a remarkable 1000 plus for cannabis.

There’s a lot that we can learn from Neknominations about the way in which we perceive alcohol use in this country. The tragedies that have arisen from the extreme developments of the craze are a warning sign of the real threat that peer pressure can pose, especially in the context of today’s social media culture. Perhaps more importantly however, it highlights the dangers of subscribing to a belief that equates how much you’re willing to drink with how much of a good time you’re up for having.

BY: Joel Crawley