The Tide Pod Challenge–this incredibly stupid act swept the United States earlier this year and involved people, typically teenagers, attempting to consume a laundry detergent pod. But it was not dumb kids who created this trend, it is the major U.S. media outlets.
In a press release by the American Poison Control Center in January, they cited that there were 39 cases of people eating laundry detergent pods in the first two weeks of January. The following week, there were another 47.
Something clearly happened to cause such a spike. Turns out, the vast majority of Tide Pod Challenge videos were released after the release of the data, although the trend started in early December of last year.
Like most internet trends, the Tide Pod Challenge seemed destined to remain on the internet, where it would be a dumb meme that eventually and inevitably fizzled out on its own. But at the end of the second week in January, news outlets picked up the story and made it truly viral.
By making the trend seem serious, they extended its lifespan and reach exponentially. Google’s search statistics show that searches involving the Tide Pod Challenge skyrocketed just after it was reported. With new people tuning in to these videos, young and foolish people responded by making thousands more.
The fact of the matter is that this should have never been a notable news story. The statistic I cited earlier showing 86 cases of laundry pod poisoning in two weeks? That’s absolutely nothing in comparison to the other calls they receive. Last year, Poison Control received over 2,000,000 calls on other cases, so well over 5,000 calls a day.
The fact that the issue is so insignificant actually makes it more likely to be reported, which highlights another problem with modern media. People are more likely to read novelty stories that are unique rather than major things they have already heard of. We as a society also have a morbid curiosity that causes us to trend more toward negative stories rather than positive ones.
Media outlets know this, and it’s why they report more heavily on stories that sound dangerous even when it’s spread is minuscule.
The point is that everything you read, especially online, should be taken with a grain of salt. In recent years, we have lost our attention span almost entirely, and it has caused the news to become more concerned about keeping the people engaged rather than informed.