Whether they’re competing for views, fun, or misguided ideas of glory, viral challenges and trends can come with, um, unseen consequences, and that's putting it lightly. Many of these "light-hearted" challenges end up being just plain dumb and even outright dangerous. Here are 40 facts about the dumbest viral trends and challenges in history.
It's simple: ice + salt = chemical burn. This hurts, and can even leave permanent nerve damage. The chemical reaction between the salt and ice causes the ice to drop to a chilling -28°C, enough to cause a full burn in minutes. Despite this, people have been putting water and salt on their skin and then applying ice to see how long they last. Yikes.
This is why you put salt on frosty streets!
Neknomination saw friends nominating one another to drink a pint of liquor in one chug. This challenge caused the deaths of at least five people. A pastor said of the challenge, “People need to be brave. People need to say no. […] Just as this craze is supposed to have been started by one person, it can be stopped by one person.” Thankfully, the fad has settled down.
The banana Sprite challenge says that you cannot consume some bananas and a liter of Sprite without puking. Many believe a chemical reaction between the Sprite and the banana is what causes the issue, but it’s just due to the fact that one liter of Sprite and two bananas are too much for the average human stomach to hold. Who would’ve thought?
The Bird Box challenge: blindfold yourself like the movie characters and try to do stuff. It’s simple, dangerous, and the internet loved it. Netflix had to tell people to stop taking part in the challenge after it blew up. Videos exist all over the web depicting people trying the Bird Box challenge, with some even blindfolding themselves for 24 hours!
Everyone freeze! That was the idea of the mannequin challenge, where everyone would freeze in place suddenly on a timed alert. Celebs loved this one, and participants included Beyoncé, Garth Brooks, Britney Spears, and Paul McCartney!
The Harlem Shake was a popular dance trend. Participants danced in a specific way to the song The Harlem Shake. A lot of people had fun with this one, but the residents of Harlem were not pleased. The dance in the video is not the real Harlem Shake, and many residents felt it was disrespectful to claim so.
Planking involves laying face down, arms at your side like a plank, in various locations. It became popular with many in the late-2000s, including Australian PM John Key, who posted his own planking pic and voiced his support for the trend if done safely. It ended quickly after.
Few challenges are as dumb as the Tide Pod Challenge, in which one eats Tide Pods on film. Efforts were made to discourage people from ingesting the pods, as within the first 15 days of 2018 there were 39 reports of teens intentionally eating the pods, a huge spike from the 39 cases total two years earlier.
Phonebooth stuffing was a weird pre-internet fad. The idea was to cram as many people as possible into a phone booth—and that’s it. The record of 25 people was set in 1959.
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In the eraser challenge, you rub an eraser against your skin while reciting a phrase. Make it through, and you win—but it had a disturbing side effect. It left massive burns on lots of kids, and as one man commented on a post warning of the epidemic: "I still have a scar. I'm 65 years old did this back in the 60s."
Swallowing goldfish live was popular in colleges in the 30s—although no one knows how it started. The sport got so popular a Massachusetts State Senator once filed a bill in attempts to stop people from consuming the fish. PETA would be proud.
What started as a campaign to stop warlord Joseph Kony exploded into a worldwide phenomenon basically overnight. Everyone seemed to be into it, with the video explaining the cause, “Kony 2012,” becoming the most-watched viral video at the time (that record has since surpassed). Of course, the rest of the story gets…pretty weird. I’ll let you dive down that rabbit hole on your own.
Car surfing involves riding on the outside of a car while someone else drives. One study claimed 58 reports of deaths from the stunt, and 41 injuries from 1990 to 2008. 75% of those were men. Come on, dudes.
Go to a store, get a gallon jug, throw it at the ground. That’s it. That’s the trend. This spread around the internet, with seven teens being charged in 2013 for disorderly conduct and destruction of property. Some challenges aren’t really challenges…they’re just illegal.
The internet has helped spread the deadly anti-vax movement, although it’s hard to gauge numbers precisely. The main argument against vaccines is that they cause autism, but this is false. The most recent study, which followed more than 650,000 people over ten years, found no link between the two.
For some reason, the internet caught onto the fact that you can slip on banana peels in 2016 and needed to film it. This can be dangerous, of course, and a doctor at New York Presbyterian Hospital made a statement, saying, "They [bananas] can cause increased morbidity and even mortality in some cases.” That’s a new way to think about bananas.
Sound easy to eat six saltine crackers in a minute? It’s not, making it a challenge in the late 90s. Many got in on the trend, including Tom Bergeron, who tried the strategy of eating four saltines all at once. He lost the $40 bet on live TV.
Can you swallow a spoonful of cinnamon? The answer is no, and it always ends in disaster: usually in the form of choking and a messy kitchen. That’s because cinnamon is ground tree bark. The cellulose inside of it cannot be metabolized well, so your body rejects it in large, dry quantities.
Eating hot peppers is a mostly harmless challenge. Challengers eat the hottest peppers to impress their peers, leading to many tears. Pepper heat is measured on a thing called the Scoville scale. The highest rating pepper on this scale is Pepper X, bred to reach a whopping 3.18 million Scoville units.
Count me out.
Is setting yourself on fire a challenge? In the age of social media, sure. One big danger is burns, but shock is another. A lot of people end up running away before dousing the flames, which only makes them more aggressive. Please don’t try this one.
Throwing hot water at someone: a crime or a challenge? The internet says the latter, as the hot water challenge involved just that. It ended quickly after kids started going to the hospital with burns. It just shows what people will do for views.
A recent trend on TikTok involves putting eyelash glue above your lip and sticking your top lip to it in an attempt to make it look plumper. Unsurprisingly, this is not a good idea. One Doctor says, “The glue can rip off your skin to cause superficial tears and abrasions. You can develop scars and discoloration.”
In the “shells on” challenge, you try to eat a food “shell and all.” This applies to banana peels, pineapple skin, and even wrappers and plastic. That’s where doctors had issues. “Eating plastic […] can be dangerous. […] Chemicals in PVC like vinyl chloride have been linked to cancers.” Is it worth the meme? Maybe not.
You have 60 seconds to chug a liter of milk: Go! Actually, don’t. You’ll puke. Artist Craig Doty saw this as an opportunity, and in 2005 showed off a video called “The Milk Chugger,” where he drank milk until he vomited. Is it art? That’s up to you.
Eating corn off a drill sounds like fun, but it’s really not. One woman attempting the challenge ended up with a bald spot after the drill got caught in her hair. People claimed it was fake, but in an interview, she countered it to be real and discouraged the challenge.
The condom challenge is dumb: you push a condom up your throat and through your nose. It’s considered a choking hazard for obvious reasons. Although a modern challenge, it was first performed at a circus sideshow in the 90s by Matt “The Tube” Crowley. What a pioneer.
In the Kylie Jenner Challenge, people try to mimic the lips of Kyle by sucking in on the open end of a glass. Kylie spoke out against the challenge, which was leaving some girls very hurt, by saying, "I want to encourage people/young girls like me to be YOURSELF & not be afraid to experiment w your look."
Cone-ing involves ordering an ice cream cone from a fast-food drive-thru chain and then picking it up by the scoop of ice cream instead of by the cone, making a huge mess. This one was short-lived, but annoying while it lasted, with employees having to go to measures such as covering the cone with a cup while handing it out as to not get tricked.
How many times do we have to say it? Don’t involve low-paid workers in your viral challenge, unless the challenge involves giving them money hassle-free.
Fanny packs are back! The helpful bag was ragged on in the past as a terrible 90s trend, but recently they account for 25% of accessory sales. So, strap on your Crocs and get your fanny pack, because that’s totally okay now.
Plastic surgery isn’t a new trend, but its focus on the butt is. The Brazilian butt lift was the number one fastest growing plastic surgery procedure of 2018. It went so crazy that illegal butt lifts became a huge problem, leading to death in some cases.
In the vacuum challenge, you sit inside a garbage bag with your head poking out and suck the air out of the bag with a vacuum. It clings to your body and looks funny, but can potentially lead to cerebral hypoxia, caused by a lack of oxygen going to the brain. Doing this alone would be very foolish.
Flower beards call back to the 70s and the hippie movement when men would sometimes rep the beard flowers. There are photos dating back as early as 1977 that show off men with flower beards! Good for the gram, perhaps a little silly in person.
Duelling: the ultimate challenge, and it certainly went viral during its heyday. Duelling hit its peak in the 1800s and was outlawed finally in 1880, but not before former US secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Vice President Aaron Burr took up the challenge, leaving Hamilton dead.
The Segway was supposed to revolutionize walking but didn’t catch on. The idea lived on, however, in hoverboards. These were more popular than Segways, but the hype ended when they spontaneously started to catch fire. There were at least 60 reports of hoverboard fires, causing over $2 million in damages.
Innocent enough: Wrap a friend in duct tape and see them try to escape. But it went horribly wrong in 2016 when a 14-year-old who was playing the game fell over and hit his head. The fall hospitalized the boy with serious injuries, and he nearly perished. Thankfully he recovered but was left blind in one eye.
Drake’s inspired a lot of memes, but few took off like the Kiki challenge. This saw people “ghost dancing” to the song “In My Feelings” beside their cars as they moved slowly in drive. Police had to warn people to stop due to potential damage. In Florida, the offense could come with a $1,000 fine!
When the Croc came about, it caught on as the dumbest shoe in history. Moms loved them, and the internet loved to rag on them. Now, however, the Croc is on the other foot! Crocs are now the 13th most popular footwear brand, rising from 2017’s position of 30th place. Even more surprising, its teens who are buying them!
This one’s actually… not too dumb. It raises awareness and money for ALS research. However, the challenge does have critics who believe it’s too much about fun and not donations, with many forgoing a donation entirely. Despite this, most love the challenge and the real outrage came in 2014 when the ALS Association tried to copyright the term “ALS Challenge.”
This was revoked the same day after an avalanche of complaints.
For the cheese challenger, you basically film yourself throwing a slice of cheese at your baby’s head. The resulting slap and stick of the cheese is supposed to be funny, but often isn’t. The man who made the trend viral expressed regret for doing so. He said it got out of hand, and was an invasion of the thrower’s privacy.
Probably a good move.
In the pass out challenge, you choke yourself until you get a headrush. This reached a sad peak when a 12-year-old accidentally strangled himself to death. His mother set up Erik’s Cause, an organization to raise awareness of the game and its dangers.
My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.
Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.
Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.
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