skip to main content


Title: An Investigation of the Portrayal of Social Media Challenges on YouTube and Twitter
A social media phenomenon that has received limited research attention is the advent and propagation of viral online challenges. Several of these challenges entail self-harming behavior, which, combined with their viral nature, poses physical and psychological risks for both participants and viewers. The objective of this study is to identify the nature of what people post about the social media challenges that vary in their level of risk. To do so, we conducted a qualitative analysis of three viral social media challenges, the Blue Whale, Tide Pod, and Ice Bucket challenges, based on 180 YouTube videos, 3,607 comments on those YouTube videos, and 450 Twitter posts. We identified common themes across the YouTube videos, comments, and Twitter posts: (1) promoting education and awareness, (2) criticizing the participants, (3) providing detailed information about the participants, (4) giving viewers a tutorial on how to participate, and (5) attempting to understand this seemingly senseless online behavior. We used social norm theory to discuss what leads people to post about the challenges and how posts intended to raise awareness about harmful challenges could potentially create a contagion effect by spreading knowledge about them, thereby increasing participation. Finally, we proposed design implications that could potentially minimize the risks and propagation of harmful social media challenges.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1832904
NSF-PAR ID:
10219334
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
ACM Transactions on Social Computing
Volume:
4
Issue:
1
ISSN:
2469-7818
Page Range / eLocation ID:
1 to 23
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Background: Research suggests that direct exposure to suicidal behavior and acts of self-harm through social media may increase suicidality through imitation and modeling, with adolescents representing a particularly vulnerable population. One example of viral self-harming behavior that could potentially be propagated through social media is the Blue Whale Challenge (BWC). Objective: We investigate how people portray BWC on social media and the potential harm this may pose to vulnerable populations. Methods: We first used a grounded approach coding 60 publicly posted YouTube videos, 1112 comments on those videos, and 150 Twitter posts that explicitly referenced BWC. We deductively coded the YouTube videos based on the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) Messaging guidelines. Results: Overall, 83.33%, 28.33%, and 68.67% of the YouTube videos, comments, and Twitter posts were trying to raise awareness and discourage participation in BWC. Yet, about 37% of the videos violated six or more of the SPRC messaging guidelines. Conclusions: These posts might have the problematic effect of normalizing BWC through repeated exposure, modeling, and reinforcement of self-harming and suicidal behavior, especially among vulnerable adolescents. Greater efforts are needed to educate social media users and content generators on safe messaging guidelines and factors that encourage versus discourage contagion effects. 
    more » « less
  2. Introduction Social media has created opportunities for children to gather social support online (Blackwell et al., 2016; Gonzales, 2017; Jackson, Bailey, & Foucault Welles, 2018; Khasawneh, Rogers, Bertrand, Madathil, & Gramopadhye, 2019; Ponathil, Agnisarman, Khasawneh, Narasimha, & Madathil, 2017). However, social media also has the potential to expose children and adolescents to undesirable behaviors. Research showed that social media can be used to harass, discriminate (Fritz & Gonzales, 2018), dox (Wood, Rose, & Thompson, 2018), and socially disenfranchise children (Page, Wisniewski, Knijnenburg, & Namara, 2018). Other research proposes that social media use might be correlated to the significant increase in suicide rates and depressive symptoms among children and adolescents in the past ten years (Mitchell, Wells, Priebe, & Ybarra, 2014). Evidence based research suggests that suicidal and unwanted behaviors can be promulgated through social contagion effects, which model, normalize, and reinforce self-harming behavior (Hilton, 2017). These harmful behaviors and social contagion effects may occur more frequently through repetitive exposure and modelling via social media, especially when such content goes “viral” (Hilton, 2017). One example of viral self-harming behavior that has generated significant media attention is the Blue Whale Challenge (BWC). The hearsay about this challenge is that individuals at all ages are persuaded to participate in self-harm and eventually kill themselves (Mukhra, Baryah, Krishan, & Kanchan, 2017). Research is needed specifically concerning BWC ethical concerns, the effects the game may have on teenagers, and potential governmental interventions. To address this gap in the literature, the current study uses qualitative and content analysis research techniques to illustrate the risk of self-harm and suicide contagion through the portrayal of BWC on YouTube and Twitter Posts. The purpose of this study is to analyze the portrayal of BWC on YouTube and Twitter in order to identify the themes that are presented on YouTube and Twitter posts that share and discuss BWC. In addition, we want to explore to what extent are YouTube videos compliant with safe and effective suicide messaging guidelines proposed by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC). Method Two social media websites were used to gather the data: 60 videos and 1,112 comments from YouTube and 150 posts from Twitter. The common themes of the YouTube videos, comments on those videos, and the Twitter posts were identified using grounded, thematic content analysis on the collected data (Padgett, 2001). Three codebooks were built, one for each type of data. The data for each site were analyzed, and the common themes were identified. A deductive coding analysis was conducted on the YouTube videos based on the nine SPRC safe and effective messaging guidelines (Suicide Prevention Resource Center, 2006). The analysis explored the number of videos that violated these guidelines and which guidelines were violated the most. The inter-rater reliabilities between the coders ranged from 0.61 – 0.81 based on Cohen’s kappa. Then the coders conducted consensus coding. Results & Findings Three common themes were identified among all the posts in the three social media platforms included in this study. The first theme included posts where social media users were trying to raise awareness and warning parents about this dangerous phenomenon in order to reduce the risk of any potential participation in BWC. This was the most common theme in the videos and posts. Additionally, the posts claimed that there are more than 100 people who have played BWC worldwide and provided detailed description of what each individual did while playing the game. These videos also described the tasks and different names of the game. Only few videos provided recommendations to teenagers who might be playing or thinking of playing the game and fewer videos mentioned that the provided statistics were not confirmed by reliable sources. The second theme included posts of people that either criticized the teenagers who participated in BWC or made fun of them for a couple of reasons: they agreed with the purpose of BWC of “cleaning the society of people with mental issues,” or they misunderstood why teenagers participate in these kind of challenges, such as thinking they mainly participate due to peer pressure or to “show off”. The last theme we identified was that most of these users tend to speak in detail about someone who already participated in BWC. These videos and posts provided information about their demographics and interviews with their parents or acquaintances, who also provide more details about the participant’s personal life. The evaluation of the videos based on the SPRC safe messaging guidelines showed that 37% of the YouTube videos met fewer than 3 of the 9 safe messaging guidelines. Around 50% of them met only 4 to 6 of the guidelines, while the remaining 13% met 7 or more of the guidelines. Discussion This study is the first to systematically investigate the quality, portrayal, and reach of BWC on social media. Based on our findings from the emerging themes and the evaluation of the SPRC safe messaging guidelines we suggest that these videos could contribute to the spread of these deadly challenges (or suicide in general since the game might be a hoax) instead of raising awareness. Our suggestion is parallel with similar studies conducted on the portrait of suicide in traditional media (Fekete & Macsai, 1990; Fekete & Schmidtke, 1995). Most posts on social media romanticized people who have died by following this challenge, and younger vulnerable teens may see the victims as role models, leading them to end their lives in the same way (Fekete & Schmidtke, 1995). The videos presented statistics about the number of suicides believed to be related to this challenge in a way that made suicide seem common (Cialdini, 2003). In addition, the videos presented extensive personal information about the people who have died by suicide while playing the BWC. These videos also provided detailed descriptions of the final task, including pictures of self-harm, material that may encourage vulnerable teens to consider ending their lives and provide them with methods on how to do so (Fekete & Macsai, 1990). On the other hand, these videos both failed to emphasize prevention by highlighting effective treatments for mental health problems and failed to encourage teenagers with mental health problems to seek help and providing information on where to find it. YouTube and Twitter are capable of influencing a large number of teenagers (Khasawneh, Ponathil, Firat Ozkan, & Chalil Madathil, 2018; Pater & Mynatt, 2017). We suggest that it is urgent to monitor social media posts related to BWC and similar self-harm challenges (e.g., the Momo Challenge). Additionally, the SPRC should properly educate social media users, particularly those with more influence (e.g., celebrities) on elements that boost negative contagion effects. While the veracity of these challenges is doubted by some, posting about the challenges in unsafe manners can contribute to contagion regardless of the challlenges’ true nature. 
    more » « less
  3. Background The increasing volume of health-related social media activity, where users connect, collaborate, and engage, has increased the significance of analyzing how people use health-related social media. Objective The aim of this study was to classify the content (eg, posts that share experiences and seek support) of users who write health-related social media posts and study the effect of user demographics on post content. Methods We analyzed two different types of health-related social media: (1) health-related online forums—WebMD and DailyStrength—and (2) general online social networks—Twitter and Google+. We identified several categories of post content and built classifiers to automatically detect these categories. These classifiers were used to study the distribution of categories for various demographic groups. Results We achieved an accuracy of at least 84% and a balanced accuracy of at least 0.81 for half of the post content categories in our experiments. In addition, 70.04% (4741/6769) of posts by male WebMD users asked for advice, and male users’ WebMD posts were more likely to ask for medical advice than female users’ posts. The majority of posts on DailyStrength shared experiences, regardless of the gender, age group, or location of their authors. Furthermore, health-related posts on Twitter and Google+ were used to share experiences less frequently than posts on WebMD and DailyStrength. Conclusions We studied and analyzed the content of health-related social media posts. Our results can guide health advocates and researchers to better target patient populations based on the application type. Given a research question or an outreach goal, our results can be used to choose the best online forums to answer the question or disseminate a message. 
    more » « less
  4. Arai, K. (Ed.)
    Individuals spend a significant portion of their time on social media. It has become a platform for expression of feelings, sharing of ideas and connecting with other individuals using video and audio posts, textual data such as comments and descriptions and so on. Social media has a considerable impact on people’s daily life. In recent time, there is an enormous growth in number of people using Twitter and Instagram to share their emotions and sentiments which represents their actual feelings. In this work, we apply Machine Learning techniques on social media data to perform a comprehensive investigation to detect the risk of depression in people. Our work can help to detect various symptoms such sadness, loneliness, detachment etc. providing an insight for forensic analysts and law enforcement agencies about the person’s mental state. The experimental results show that Extra Tree Classifier performs significantly better over the other models in detecting the sentiment of people using social media data. 
    more » « less
  5. Viral social media challenges have erupted across multiple social media platforms. While social media users participate in prosocial challenges designed to support good causes, like the Ice Bucket Challenge, some challenges (e.g., Cinnamon Challenge) can also potentially be dangerous. To understand the influential factors, experiences, and reflections of young adults who participated in a viral social media challenge in the past, we conducted interviews with 30 college students (ages 18-27). We applied behavioral contagion theory as a qualitative lens to understand whether this theory could help explain the factors that contributed to their participation. We found that behavior contagion theory was useful but not fully able to explain how and why young social media users engaged in viral challenges. Thematic analyses uncovered that overt social influence and intrinsic factors (i.e., social pressure, entertainment value, and attention-seeking) also played a key role in challenge participation. Additionally, we identified divergent patterns between prosocial and potentially risky social media challenges. Those who participated in prosocial challenges appeared to be more socially motivated as they saw more similarities between themselves and the individuals that they observed performing the challenges and were more likely to be directly encouraged by their friends to participate. In contrast, those who performed potentially risky challenges often did not see similarities with other challenge participants, nor did they receive direct encouragement from peers; yet, half of these participants said they would not have engaged in the challenge had they been more aware of the potential for physical harm. We consider the benefits and risks that viral social media challenges present for young adults with the intent of optimizing these interactions by mitigating risks, rather than discouraging them altogether. 
    more » « less