Along with the usual advice to stay hydrated and wear sun lotion, this summer police around the world have been issuing a new warning: Don‚Äôt jump out of a moving car and dance on the road.
The reason people are doing this in the first place, of course, is because of #inmyfeelings, the latest social media challenge to go viral, inspired by Drake‚Äôs single of the same name and a video uploaded by Instagram comedian Shiggy that shows him dancing to the song.
The #inmyfeelings challenge ‚Äď also referred to as the Kiki challenge ‚Äď involves getting out of the car while it‚Äôs still moving, leaving the door open and dancing as the car keeps rolling forwards. And, of course, the whole thing has to be filmed, or it didn‚Äôt happen. (Shiggy‚Äôs original video didn‚Äôt actually involve a car, but this became a feature of the challenge after Shiggy‚Äôs friend Odell Beckham Jr filmed himself doing the dance in front of a car.)
Some of the thousands of challenge attempts to date have resulted in people crashing into poles, tripping over potholes and falling out of cars. One video shows a woman getting her handbag stolen mid-dance, while another shows a 22-year-old man being hit by a car as he attempts the challenge in Florida. A video posted from Egypt shows a man jumping from a donkey-drawn cart, despite Egypt‚Äôs Interior Ministry warning that obstructing traffic can lead to a fine of 3,000 Egyptian pounds (about ¬£130) and one year in prison.
Risky online challenges have become as synonymous with social media as selfies and humblebrags. In recent years, we‚Äôve had challenges involving everything from cinnamon to tide pods, with varying levels of risk involved. Some have been injured, and even killed, for the sake of filming a video to share on their timelines; the planking challenge resulted in the death of a 20-year-old who fell to his death in Brisbane after planking on a seventh-floor balcony, and in 2014 the neknomination challenge, which involved people filming themselves downing alcohol and then nominating someone else to do the same, was linked to five deaths in the UK.
So why do we do it? The way these challenges spread can be understood by looking how we act offline, according to Damon Centola, associate professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book How Behavior Spreads. ‚ÄúAdopting dangerous behaviors is usually triggered by emotional excitement, which is amplified in crowds,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúOnline, this translates into emotional excitement being triggered when we see lots of commenting activity around a post, which creates more excitement for others, and encourages them to participate.‚ÄĚ
These behaviours spread easily through social media, where new activity can be rapidly reinforced by interconnected peers. ‚ÄúInitial online activity by a group of people reinforces others, and as more people participate, excitement about participating grows until the challenge spreads across the network,‚ÄĚ he says.
It‚Äôs not just stupid challenges, Centola adds; this spread of excitement and activity can also be seen in political movements, such as in how the Arab Spring revolutions grew, or how enthusiasm for new political candidates can quickly build momentum.
He suggests that the reason #inmyfeelings has been particularly popular could be because it has the exact right level of risk involved. There are two elements to danger that can affect how contagious it is among social networks, he explains. The first is the actual risk of pain or injury, which makes us more resistant to pick up our phones and film ourselves doing the challenge.
‚ÄúOn the other side, it‚Äôs easier to generate emotional excitement for a behaviour that is somewhat risky than for a behaviour that it not at all risky,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúTogether, these two facts mean that slightly dangerous or slightly risky challenges may have the best combination of high-enough riskiness to make it easy to create emotional excitement about participating, but low-enough risk that they can spread with only moderate levels of social reinforcement.‚ÄĚ
Angela Dobele, an associate professor of marketing at RMIT University in Melbourne whose research has looked into what makes certain viral marketing campaigns so successful, says another reason people take part in these challenges is the human impulse of wanting to fit in. ‚ÄúAt their core, people want to belong,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúWe want connection, peer acceptance, and validation. We want to be seen as part of a popular group or trend, and we don‚Äôt think of the consequences because we‚Äôre busy trying to be a part of it.‚ÄĚ
Social media has amplified this on a global scale. ‚ÄúPart of the reason these challenges, and successful marketing campaigns, work on social media is because they have a co-creation element, allowing people to contribute to a message they feel is bigger and better than them, which they themselves become a part of by association,‚ÄĚ Dobele adds.
Sarah Gaither, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, says that recognition from friends and followers on social media boosts esteem and increases our sense of being part of the group. ‚ÄúEach like or share reinforces our sense of self and our sense of belonging to our social world around us,‚ÄĚ she says.
When someone puts this desire to belong before the potential risks of taking part in these challenges, it‚Äôs because they‚Äôre too busy trying to fit into their peer group, Gaither says: ‚ÄúDespite the risks that many online viral challenges present, when we are so consumed with trying to fit in with groups that are important to us, we often sacrifice the critical thinking that would tell us that a given behaviour is dangerous.‚ÄĚ