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Stemming the tide of stupidity

The power of social media to spark dangerous trends and take people to task over hate speech

Tide is a laundry detergent brand and it is known for its pods - small brightly coloured plastic packets containing soap and softener.

Clearly, the pods are meant to be placed in a washing machine and keep clothes clean.

Yet, it is now being consumed by teens in what has come to be known as the Tide Pod Challenge.

The challenge is simple-eat the pods while recording yourself, and dare others to do the same.

Some teens have also filmed themselves "cooking" the pods by frying them, or baking them as toppings on pizza.

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centres, there have been 40 cases of "reported exposures to liquid laundry detergent pods" involving 13-to 19-year-olds in the first 11 days of this year. This is 20 per cent higher than the number of incidents in the whole of 2017.

There have also been reports of such cases outside the United States.

While the product was introduced in 2012, the challenge gained prominence only in recent weeks. In the past, the pods were eaten by infants who might have mistaken them for sweets.


Posts on social media on Tide Pods, brightly coloured plastic packets of soap and softener, have sparked a worrying trend of teenagers eating the pods as part of a challenge. The challenge is simple - eat the pods while recording oneself and dare others to do the same. PHOTOS: YOUTUBE

Now, videos of teens eating the detergent packets are garnering millions of views.

It does not help that the Internet is awash with many memes lauding its "delicious" taste.

In one photoshopped image, famed chef Gordon Ramsey is seen smiling over a bowl of pods. In another, scantily clad people are fawning over a muscular man holding a sword and eating Tide pods in a post-apocalyptic backdrop. Other images compared the pods to gummy bears and cookies.

Instagram influencers, such as cosplayers, are also dressing up as pods.


Model Jo Marney defending her comments in which she disparaged American actress Meghan Markle, who is slated to marry Prince Harry. PHOTO: TWITTER

Several food and beverage outlets have also jumped on the bandwagon. A New York pizzeria has started making an edible alternative named the Tide Pod Pizza, while a bakery has rolled out a Tide Pod donut.

The situation has got so bad that social media giants have been forced to act.

Facebook has begun removing any content with the hashtag #TidePodChallenge from its platform as well as Instagram.

Google, which owns YouTube, is removing videos of people eating the pods and issuing warnings to those who posted them.

To stem the tide, so to speak, the detergent manufacturer has posted a video featuring American football star Rob Gronkowski washing his clothes.

"What the heck is going on people?" he says, "Use Tide Pods for washing, not eating."

Meanwhile, several US pharmacies and supermarkets are locking up the pods to prevent teens from buying them.

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Eating Tide Pods can cause difficulty in breathing, a loss of consciousness and temporary vision loss thanks to its potent ingredients meant to wash off dirt and grime. As it is considered poisonous, those who ingest it are strongly encouraged to head to the closest hospital for treatment.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for stupidity.

WHAT'S FAIR GAME?

Think a private Facebook Messenger chat between friends absolves a person from the responsibility of what's being said?Think again.

Model Jo Marney, 25 - who had been romantically linked to Mr Henry Bolton, the 54-year-old leader of controversial British party Ukip - in a series of messages with a friend, disparages American actress Meghan Markle, who is slated to become a member of the British royal family upon her marriage with Prince Harry in May.

In some messages, she said that she "didn't agree with a n****".

Ms Markle's mother is African-American.

Ms Marney goes on to say that Ms Markle's "seed" will taint the royal family, that she is a "dumb commoner with a tiny brain", and also disparages Africa.

Faced with a string of criticism, Ms Marney issued an apology out of a common political playbook - she said her comments had been taken out of context. "They were unnecessary, they were reckless, they were overly exaggerated purely for effect," she added.

In a tweet, she also said she did not hate black people as she enjoyed their music.

Many expressed their scepticism with her apology.

The fall-out has been swift.

Mr Bolton, in a televised interview, said he has ended his relationship with Ms Marney in a bid to salvage his political career.

Ms Marney has been ejected from Ukip, of which she was a member.

The episode is an example of how nothing is confidential on social media, even on channels meant to be private.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 21, 2018, with the headline 'Stemming the tide of stupidity'. Print Edition | Subscribe