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“Eating Tide Pods” is, without a doubt, the breakout internet trend of January 2018. The colorful little balls of laundry detergent look so much like candy that it only makes sense to joke about how tempting it is to eat them. But when you push a joke about delicious-looking poison to its limits, you end up with the Tide Pod Challenge.
What is the Tide Pod Challenge?
The Tide Pod Challenge is a terrible trend in which teens dare each other to actually eat laundry soap.
Very few people are actually doing it, but the chance that a kid could take things too far has led YouTube to start removing Tide Pod Challenge videos. Tide itself is treating the Tide Pod memes as a genuine PR crisis, and YouTube is still reeling after Logan Paul, one of its most popular bloggers, filmed a dead body, so the crackdown on Tide Pod Challenge videos has been swift.
In the first two weeks of January alone, the U.S. had 39 cases of teens ingesting laundry detergent, compared to 53 cases in all of 2017. The American Association of Poison Control Centers blames the increase on the challenge videos, and their popularity led NFL star Rob Gronkowski to film a PSA to warn people against eating Tide Pods.
“The ‘laundry packet challenge’ is neither funny nor without serious health implications,” said AAPCC CEO Stephen Kaminski.
YouTube challenges have long been a source of internet moral panic, but kids aren’t as dumb as the media makes them out to be. The challenges that result in serious injury or death, like the “hot water challenge” that scalded one girl’s throat and disfigured two others, typically aren’t the viral hits they’re made out to be. One of the hot water cases, for example, turned out to be a “prank” played on a sleeping girl, not a case of the girl herself copying a YouTube video.
The bigger issue with the Tide Pod Challenge is that everyone is latching onto the joke. There are multiple recipes to make your own edible Tide Pods, and a Brooklyn pizza shop is offering Tide Pod-inspired pizza. Austin restaurant El Arroyo posted this instant classic on Instagram.
Tide Pod Challenge news
- Oribellyohhs, a YouTube family channel, came under intense scrutiny on Jan. 22 for its “Family Eats Tide Pods Challenge” video, which racked up over 116,000 views. While the family doesn’t eat the Pods—that would be just cause to alert authorities—the father offers some questionable jokes, suggesting the Pods could give you “superpowers or something.” That comment, and the clickbait video title, earned the scorn of the larger YouTube community, but despite YouTube’s own pledge to take down Tide Pod Challenge videos, it’s still up.
- Proctor & Gamble, Tide’s parent company, published a blog post on Jan. 22 addressing the “Tide Pod Challenge.” P&G CEO David Taylor blamed impulsive teens for the recent spate of detergent-eating incidents and put the onus on parents to prevent them. P&G didn’t address the design of the pods, despite the fact that their candy-like appearance is central to the Eating Tide Pods meme. Consumer advocates have been saying for months that the product design should change.
- On the same day Proctor & Gamble released its blog post, the AAPC issued a new report that concluded the Tide Pod Challenge is still gaining momentum. After reporting 39 instances of intentional exposure to the laundry packets among 13- to 19-year-olds in the first two weeks of January, that figured jumped to 86 cases in the same demographic the following week. “Since our first alert to this life-threatening activity, the trend of intentionally ingesting single-load laundry packets has increased in its popularity despite repeated warnings,” said Stephen Kaminski, AAPCC’s CEO and executive director. “We cannot stress enough how dangerous this is to the health of individuals—it can lead to seizure, pulmonary edema, respiratory arrest, coma, and even death.”
Tide Pod Challenge memes
It’s hard to separate the effect of the videos from the effect of the Tide Pod meme as a whole. There’s no denying that teens are eating laundry pods, but there’s also no denying the meme is the major viral trend of the month. The tension between how delicious the detergent packets look and how dangerous they are to eat is the entire joke. It wouldn’t exactly take a “challenge” to convince teens to try it—it would only take the promise of some of the meme’s social media shine rubbing off on them.
Some of the videos that have been deleted, like one starring 19-year-old Marc Pagan. They came from aspiring YouTube stars doing the stunt to attract views. Pagan has also done a gumball challenge, a rubber band challenge, and a “duct tape waxing challenge.”
But the most popular YouTube videos about the Tide Pod Challenge were those talking about how stupid it is:
“No fuckin’ way I’m gonna bit into a fuckin’ Tide Pod. Are you crazy?” says Jake Iannarino in a video that’s closing in on a million views.
What can we learn from this? Well, the Tide Pod Challenge isn’t a real teen trend. Sure, it’s viral. Tons of people and media outlets are talking about it. The thing is, they’re overwhelmingly warning against eating Tide Pods. The reaction to the challenge is bigger than the challenge itself ever was.
That’s not to downplay the plight of the 39 teens who ate Tide Pods, a number that can certainly be attributed to meme culture. It is to say, though, that rather than issuing PSAs and blaming meme teens, the best safety measure Tide could implement would be to stop making a product that looks so much like candy that adults with dementia keep eating them by accident.
Jay Hathaway is a former senior writer who specialized in internet memes and weird online culture. He previously served as the Daily Dot’s news editor, was a staff writer at Gawker, and edited the classic websites Urlesque and Download Squad. His work has also appeared on nymag.com, suicidegirls.com, and the Morning News.