Remember the coronavirus? Fever, sore throat, loss of taste and smell — It’s a terrible virus, isn’t it? Now what if I told you there was a coronavirus challenge that involved licking public surfaces to contract this infamous virus on purpose? Unfortunately, this is a…
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Remember the coronavirus?
Fever, sore throat, loss of taste and smell — It’s a terrible virus, isn’t it?
Now what if I told you there was a coronavirus challenge that involved licking public surfaces to contract this infamous virus on purpose?
Unfortunately, this is a real challenge.
The coronavirus challenge began circling TikTok in March 2020 and involved licking public surfaces such as doorknobs, grocery store carts, and toilet seats (yes, toilet seats).
The exact origins of this trend are unsure, but the earliest known instance of the coronavirus challenge was on the 14th of March and was posted by Ava Louise, a TikToker with over 700k followers. Ava’s post depicted her generously licking an aeroplane toilet seat on her flight to Miami.
Ava later posted the same on Twitter, complete with a caption that comments on staying sanitary while on board an aeroplane — amassing almost 300k views. It has since been taken down due to a violation of Twitter’s policies.
Unsurprisingly, Ava received harsh criticism from several public figures, including Meghan McCain, daughter of the late senator John McCain — demanding that the social media star be jailed.
Much to the public’s relief, the coronavirus challenge never reached viral status (while others participants did exist), and instead, videos were considered more of a public stunt — a cry for online interaction.
All videos related to the coronavirus challenge were quickly taken down by their respective platforms — leaving the challenge to fade away into the past.
Regardless of the trend’s short shelf life, it stands out among other harmful online challenges.
So, why did people participate in the coronavirus challenge?
What served as their motivation to risk catching the virus?
The Coronavirus Challenge: What Makes Participants Tick?
We’ve all seen, or at least heard of, some viral social media challenges.
The Ice Bucket challenge, the mannequin challenge, the bottle flip challenge — there’s plenty of harmless, and otherwise fun, trends on social media.
But this isn’t the case for all social media trends — namely, the coronavirus challenge.
Social media platforms such as YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat are most popular amongst teenagers — a demographic that’s seen links to increased risk-taking.
According to a study by psychologists Trucco and Cristello (2023), teenagers are more likely to act on impulse, risking physical injuries to gain popularity among their peers, and this behaviour is no different on social media — hence the birth of increasingly dangerous social media trends.
Research also shows that teenagers can be motivated to participate in online challenges due to social belonging, a fear of missing out and a desire for online attention.
“Teens who do not have close relationships to meet these needs for belonging and connection may be more motivated to seek these out online by engaging in challenges which are likely to be shared and gather online positive attention in the forms of interactions with the posts.”– Divna Haslam, Clinical Psychologist
It’s also believed that most algorithms on social media prioritise posts with larger reactions, which has led creators to believe the more extreme the posts are, the more reactions will come — effectively ‘baiting’ enraged social media users to comment, using the algorithm in their favour.
In the case of the coronavirus challenge, it’s clear that participants of this short-lived trend intended to take advantage of the outrage, boosting their followings on TikTok.
It’s fortunate that the coronavirus trend, while well-known, did not have many participants and was generally accepted as a harmful and meaningless challenge.
The Coronavirus Challenge: A Conclusion
Overall, the coronavirus challenge stands as a reminder of what social media challenges can become and should be used as an example for all social media users to participate in trends with their own health in mind.
The actions of participating public figures gave the trend unnecessary exposure — triggering outrage among their audiences and trading their reputation for views and comments on their platforms.
Through her actions, Ava Louise has shed light on the social power an influencer holds — her video acted as the spark to a small flame that was (thankfully) extinguished by relevant social media platforms.
Social media trends started out tame enough (the ice bucket challenge, mannequin challenge, etc.). But as time has passed, online platforms have grown accustomed to increasingly harmful trends, and the coronavirus challenge stands as a perfect example of how much the world of social media has evolved.
In the digital age we’re in, our actions and decisions have consequences — even though it doesn’t seem like it sometimes.
To stop any similar occurrences in the future, social media influencers should reevaluate their content and the impact they have as a role model on their following. In Ava Louise’s case, the video posted on Twitter reached just under 300k views in 2020.
Next time, ask yourself — are the likes and views really worth other people’s safety?
Music Credit: LuKremBo on YouTube
Conzo, P., Gallice, A., Morales, J. S., Samahita, M., & Taylor, L. K. (2021). Can [heart]s Change Minds?
Haslam, D., & Baker, S. (2023, February). Why social media makes you feel bad – and what to do about it. Retrieved from The Conversation website: https://theconversation.com/why-social-media-makes-you-feel-bad-and-what-to-do-about-it-197691
Tierney, B. (2020, March). Social media challenge has teens trying to get COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.wsaz.com website: https://www.wsaz.com/content/news/Social-media-challenge-has-teens-trying-to-get-COVID-19-569109331.html
Toureille, C. (2020, March 16). Woman slammed for licking a toilet seat for “coronavirus challenge.” Retrieved from Mail Online website: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-8116799/Tik-Tok-star-22-slammed-licking-toilet-seat-claiming-complete-coronavirus-challenge.html
Trucco, E. M., & Cristello, J. (2023, May 18). Teenage brains are drawn to popular social media challenges – here’s how parents can get their kids to think twice. Retrieved from The Conversation website: https://theconversation.com/teenage-brains-are-drawn-to-popular-social-media-challenges-heres-how-parents-can-get-their-kids-to-think-twice-204686