Students around the world are participating in an online drinking game known as neck and nominate, or neknominate.
The rules of the game are the participant films himself or herself drinking a pint of an alcoholic beverage in one gulp. They then upload the footage to the web. After posting the footage, the participant nominates or challenges two others to complete the challenge. The nominated person must complete the challenge in under 24 hours after being nominated. On YouTube alone, not including social media, there exist over 30,000 videos of neknomination.
The “challenge” theme is very popular on YouTube, for a variety of risk-taking activities.
UW-L Rec Sports puts a positive twist on the game, following in the footsteps of South Africans. UW-L participates in "NICEnominations. Building managers of the Rec Center perform random acts of kindness in an attempt to spread the kindness across the web and social media. They shovel ice from the common ground, then nominated the Intramural Supervisors. “Students like to one-up each other, so we decided to make a challenge that would be positive,” says Zach Scola, a REC student building manager. “We figured random acts of kindness would easily catch on and spread.”
Cara Knipfer, a sophomore at UW-L, says “We’re making it a competition of doing something good for your community and working to make that spread farther.” However, this isn't stopping the spread of neknomination across the globe and campus.
Jason Bertrand, the wellness resource coordinator at UW-L, states, "I have met with a few students that were either caught doing this activity illegally (underage drinking or drinking in campus buildings). These students have had a one on one intervention meeting with me.I also was shown a neknominate video of a Wisconsin high school teacher and coach that did this on his public profile page. I am sure he is no longer a licensed teacher." This shows that neknomination is not just a game between twentysomethings to show their own prowess. Adults are being nominated into playing the game. Younger kids connect to the videos through social media and simple internet searches.
"This is a lethal game. The point about alcohol is that it affects your ability to recognize that you're in danger. And it absolutely affects your ability to react to danger. So we have a double whammy," said Dr. Sarah Jarvis, a medical advisor to Drinkaware.
Gundersen Health Systems has on its website a list of things to remember when drinking in order to stay safe. On this list is "Avoid drinking games." Drinking games often lead to acute alcohol poisoning, vomiting, falling unconscious, breathing slowly, becoming confused, turning a bluish-color, and lowering the body temperature. A blood alcohol content four times the legal limit is lethal.
Lawyer Julian Young said that anyone who nominates someone could find themselves before a court - even if the drinking doesn’t end in tragedy. Young said, “Any person would have to prove that the person who did the nomination knew with a degree of certainty what was likely to occur.”
According to Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, more than 1 shot of hard liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer puts a person at risk for intoxication. Gundersen says, "Drinking too much alcohol impairs judgment and can lead to actions that put your health in jeopardy."
Johnny Byrne and Ross Cummins lost their lives trying to complete this challenge. Johnny drowned after drinking a pint and choosing to jump into the River Barrow in Carlow. He was 19 years old.
His brother went on Facebook to urge others to stop playing the game. He says, "He [Johnny] thought he had to beat the competition and after he necked his pint, he jumped into the river." What began as just a beer-drinking game turned into an outdo-everyone game. People have upped the alcoholic content, the chemicals added, and the other things they have added to drinks or what they do afterwards to outdo the person who nominated them.
Jason Betrand says, "I first heard about the history of the activity more than a year ago and actually didn't think it would catch on here in the U.S. Many people don't really know what ‘nek,’ means or the history behind it. I have seen various students performing such acts online. Many students have brought this up to me as well as similar challenges involving alcohol."
“Neck” is English slang for drinking in a swallow; “necro” is also Greek for “death,” suggesting risk-taking, death-defying activity.
"Alcohol in teenagers can be very dangerous. They don't have a lot of experience, they don't know what they're limits are and by the time they've drunk too much it's often too late," said Dr. Richard Besser. However, teenagers and adults aren’t the only ones playing the game.
Nine-year old Rhiannon Scully and two other girls, ages eight and eleven, stole alcohol from Rhiannon's mother. They had seen a video of neknominate on Facebook. They went to a shed behind Rhiannon's house and drank a mixture of vodka, whisky, and orange juice. Rhiannon was in the hospital and needed to have her stomach pumped.
The mother of the eleven-year-old girl told Facebook to ban all videos of neknomination "to protect the children." The grandmother says that Facebook is fuelling neknomination. She says, "I don't agree with the craze or Facebook allowing them [the videos] to be posted at all. It should be banned. It worries me that children younger than nine can be on there looking at these things."
However, Facebook has clear rules, stating that no one under the age of 13 can use Facebook. They are not responsible for young children who lie about their age to gain access to social media. Facebook said in an interview with CNN, "We do not tolerate content which is directly harmful, for example bullying, but behavior which some people may find offensive or controversial is not always necessarily against our rules.
We encourage people to report things to us which they feel breaks our rules so we can review and take action on a case by case basis." Facebook cannot confirm the age of every single person using their website. Children may have Facebook pages set up by themselves, their friends, or even their parents. Even children without their own Facebook page can sometimes gain access to these videos through a Facebook page left up by an older sibling or parent.
Drinkaware, a charity funded by the drink industry, said more than a third of 10 to 17-year-olds who use social networking sites have seen photographs or videos of their friends drunk.
"I'm sure we can all remember feeling invincible as a child and keen not to be left out of the crowd, but as parents we know the real danger of a trend which encourages young people to take unnecessary risks and to put pressure on their friends to do the same," Drinkaware chief executive Elaine Hindal said.
A teacher from a Canadian university said, “If you think about the people that are university-aged, they're going to have friends in high school. They're probably going to dare people from high school to do it. And then those people aren't that far removed from somebody in junior high. So you know, the age gets younger as the limits get pushed.”
In Calderdale district of West Yorkshire, a 10-year-old boy filled a glass with Nando's sauce, cream, mayonnaise, and vodka. He had been nominated by his friends. He had to be seen by a doctor after almost immediately being violently ill.
A 16-year-old girl from Newcastle says about her under-18-year-old friends, "They mix things like mouthwash, raw egg, and ketchup, then add vodka shots."
Neknominate is thought to have originated in Australia, and has seen participants post videos of them drinking alcohol mixed with dog food, raw eggs, live goldfish, and dangerous chemicals. It became popular in 2014. Due to the nature of the game, it spread quickly. One person nominates two, those two nominate two each, and those four continue the tradition. Participants began drinking more alcoholic drinks in an effort to outdo the person before them.
In Dunbar, East Lothian, rescue teams had to save a teenager. The teen had downed wine and gin before diving 40ft into a harbor at low tide. The teams were under pressure, because another teen boasted he would jump off Redcar Pier in North Yorkshire.
A YouTube videa was uploaded entitled "31-year-old man from London in serious condition after drinking de-icer." The video shows the man drinking a pint of kitchen cleaner, de-icer, chilli powder, and vodka.
At least five deaths have been linked to neknomination. One Cardiff man is thought to have drunk a pint of vodka. A London Hostel worker mixed a bottle of white wine with a quarter bottle of whiskey, a small bottle of vodka, and a can of lager.
The popularity of the game in the UK came from Ross Samson, a London Irish rugby player. He posted a video on Christmas Day, saying, "I nominate all of you whose birthday it's not."
Neknominate seems to have been around for a while. A British man mentioned it in 2011 on Twitter. A group of South Africans adapted the game in 2014, making it a challenge to perform random acts of kindness.