In December of 2017, an internet meme called the “Tide Pod Challenge” resulted in a sharp increase of poisonings among teens. The challenge had circulated since Tide Pods were released in 2011, but in 2017 it became an international headline when the meme went viral and children and teens began posting videos of themselves eating the Tide Pods on YouTube. Posts on Tumblr and Reddit joked about how the Tide Pods were a “forbidden snack,” due to their bright colors and squishy feel. One person on Twitter even messaged Gushers, suggesting they make a candy that looked similar to a Tide Pod.
The “Tide Pod Challenge” involved teens filming themselves chewing and gagging on Tide Pods, some precooked. By the end of January 2018, 86 cases of teens intentionally ingesting Tide Pods had been reported. Finding an exact count of how many people died during the months the challenge was popular is suspiciously difficult, though eExtra News claimed there were 10 deaths.
Being a teen, I remember when the “Tide Pod Challenge” reached its climax, and it wasn’t that big of a deal. Sure, the media went crazy over it, and Tide products were locked up in stores for awhile (though it turned out that this was implemented to prevent theft, and was unrelated to the challenge), but nobody I know attempted to consume a Tide Pod. It was a funny meme for a few months, and then it went away, like most memes do.
I bring all of this up because yesterday, President Donald Trump suggested during a press conference that household cleaning supplies could be used to cure coronavirus.
“And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in one minute. Is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning … it would be interesting to check that.”President Donald Trump
This has provoked responses from tons of news outlets begging their readers not to ingest or inject bleach to cure coronavirus. Lysol has also released a warning against attempting to use their products as medicine. I’m not here to echo their warnings, because I like to assume my readers have at least half a brain cell and know not to drink bleach. I am here to caution, however, that we not get too worked up about the idea.
When the “Tide Pod Challenge” was kicking around, media outlets exaggerated the spectacle, as if every person between the ages of 12 and 18 was suddenly rushing to shove soap down their throats. But the journalists who hit the subject on the nose discussed the real issue behind the challenge: social media popularity. For the teens who tried the “Tide Pod Challenge,” it wasn’t about tasting soap. It was about getting views.
YouTube took down most of the “Tide Pod Challenge” videos, but a few still remain, each with anywhere from 13,000 to 2.3 million views. YouTubers who earn money from their videos make an average of $0.18 per view, which means 2.3 million views gets you $414,000. Even for those who don’t make money off their channels, having 2.3 million people watch something you’ve posted can be exciting for smaller content creators. For example, the channel who posted the Tide Pod video with 2.3 million views only has 4,760 subscribers, and his other videos rarely reach over 1000 views. Sure, you may be poisoned and hospitalized from eating the soap, but you might get YouTube famous!
In the case of Lysol injections, there isn’t a popularity circus surrounding cleaning products. Nobody is going to become YouTube famous from shooting up some bleach right now. At best, you’ll just be ignored, but at worst, you could become a national laughingstock, an example used to prove the point of journalists and media outlets trying to make a point about the state of the world, and a meme for all the wrong reasons.
If anyone does well and truly try to ingest bleach to cure their coronavirus, I doubt it’ll be a healthy adult in sound mind. But the more we discuss the idea, the more we spread it around and joke and fuss about it, the more people hear about it, and that is where I think the problem will come from. If it weren’t for the virality of the “Tide Pod Challenge,” it might not have spread so far and convinced so many people it was their ticket to fame. If we spread the Lysol injection speculation the same way, it could wind up causing the problem it’s meant to prevent. I’m aware that by posting this article I’m contributing to that, but I think the best thing to do here is side-eye the idea, laugh nervously, and move on.