Tide Pods: Calm Down, It's Hardly An Epidemic

USA

If all your friends were eating laundry detergent would you do it too?

Apparently, yes.

The ‘Tide Pod Challenge’ has gone viral. It’s a social media dare where teenagers encourage other teenagers to eat the brightly colored, candylike laundry pods. You know, the kind of thing where the punch line is: “But that poison looks like candy! And she ate it! Radical!”

It goes without saying that these products are not ingestion-friendly, containing all kinds of compounds which bind to water and fats and take the whole bundle down with them. Great for stains, bad for intestines. Side effects of ingestions include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, flatulence, and acid reflux. Oh my!

Some articles have identified the real danger as aspirating vomit into the lungs, leading to potential death.

Sure.

The hysteria around the consumption of laundry pods has lead YouTube and Facebook to remove all videos and content advocating the challenge. Tide released this video which inexplicably features Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski telling kids not to eat their detergent. I guess because he’s a cool dude that can keep it real for the kids.

And this seems to be the extent of this story; crazy kids are daring each other to eat soap because they are the dumbest dumb dumbs who have ever dragged their knuckles from the laundry room to wherever they keep their webcam.

Except if you take a millisecond to screen that story against your common sense.

That’s certainly when this story, and the surfeit of media attention it has received started to irk me. As I hope it irks you. Let me elaborate.

While there has been an uptick in the misuse of laundry pods among teens – 39 incidents so far this year, compared to 53 in all of 2017 – the number of people affected is still in the double digits. This hardly constitutes a national epidemic of teenagers cramming detergent down their gullets.

Compare these statistics to the over 6,000 teens admitted to hospital last year with fireworks-related injuries. Or the average of six teens who die in car accidents every day. Or the 1.35 million young people who are injured playing organized sports every year in the United States. Oh, if only every activity were as safe as eating soap.

Another issue I take with the misleading nature of these reports is that most fail to mention the stark reality that 10,500 children under the age of five were exposed to detergent in 2017. At that age, the danger of long-term damage is much more real.

Oh, and just to be clear, the number of teens who have died consuming laundry pods remains a firm zero.

This is just another case of headline-hungry media outlets trying to capitalize on a demographic who want to hear about how stupid young people are. It’s the same group that wants to hear that millennials are so lazy that most of them have to work multiple jobs with no hope of advancement. And while I know in my heart that none of it really matters, this is the kind of pandering that keeps me up at night.

The perpetuation of these lazy narratives leads to me having to say things like, “Actually, the vast majority of teens know it’s a bad idea to eat laundry pods. The real problem is that parents can’t keep them away from their toddlers. While I have you here, do you have a moment to talk about sports injury and teen driver safety?”

Which leads me to my next axe to grind - the policing of this content on social media sites. YouTube has claimed that videos of teens doing the Tide Pod Challenge contravene its community guidelines and has removed them on those grounds. The specific verbiage is that the guidelines “prohibit content that’s intended to encourage dangerous activities that have an inherent risk of physical harm.”

Hm. Really.

Here’s an inspirational video titled “Homemade Jackass”.

 

Or how about this one subtly titled, “Singleshot homemade pistol from scrap”?

Or a blow dart.

How about rat poison?

In the mood for some knife juggling?

Have I made my point? Has this dead horse been flogged long enough?

Social media is a panoply of information and encouragement on how to do dangerous, bordering on illegal activity. It is not the responsibility of site operators to police content that could potentially be harmful to the least thoughtful echelons of society. For a stupid person, a recipe for delightful skillet cornbread could turn into an instruction manual for injury. This kind of content removal is wasted time.

Additionally, this kind of policing also makes the mistake of treating the majority like the margin. An overwhelming percentage of teens are aware that consuming detergent is bad for them. For those who are consuming them, can we at least give them the credit of understanding the risks and doing it anyway for whatever social capital there is to be gained in eating a packet of soap?

They’re not doing it because detergent is tasty, they’re doing it to impress or entertain. And people have done a lot worse to those ends than risking vomiting and diarrhea. 

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