THE BLOG

The Case Against Some Viral Challenges

26/09/2016 16:55 | Updated 27 September 2016
Jonathan Storey via Getty Images

I was only 11 when I received my first chain letter. I read it and ignored it. Even at that age, I could see that the letter served no purpose. Whilst many of my school chums passed these ridiculous messages on, I was the badass, who always broke the chain. Recently I have played the badass again and let me tell you why.

A few weeks ago you will have noticed many of your friends posting their black and white selfies on Facebook with the caption 'challenge accepted'. Friends were then tagged in and asked to do the same and keep the chain going. This was all apparently to raise awareness of cancer. Yet no reference was made to cancer in any of these postings and this new Facebook craze was not attached to any specific cancer charity or aiming to raise funds. So how exactly is this doing any good? It made me angry. In response I even removed my profile picture from Facebook which happened to be black and white.

Such social media challenges are no new thing. Over the years we have seen postings for a whole host of chronic and life-threatening conditions. The Ice Bucket Challenge 2014 raised a lot of cash and awareness. They declared what the challenge was all about from the outset and what they wanted to achieve. Within 8 weeks it had raised £87 million and 1 in 6 in the UK took part. There can be no arguing that this sort of viral activity was indeed beneficial because it raised money for research. Yet some others challenges have left me confused and annoyed at their approach.

A few weeks ago, a friend declared on Facebook she had been accepted for Master Chef 2016. I was intrigued and questioned further. What had made her apply, I asked? What was she going to cook? For every question I asked, I was met with an immature silence. Only after another mutual friend piped in that she believed it was some type of viral challenge, were we both then sent emails. As it turns out we were to be scolded. The email, I found to be childish, rude and confusing.

We were informed that it was indeed the Breast Cancer Awareness Game 2016 and that instead of being 'spoilsports' we should choose our poison from the list of statements given and then post on our Facebooks walls and say nothing else. In fact, we were told to not let the secret out. This new subtle and secretive approach was the same one taken in the Black and White Challenge and these secretive approaches have made me realise why I detest some of these viral challenges.

These social media challenges have sadly become a sign of our new technological times. For the most part they are not aiming to assist the person sitting right now experiencing cancer or other sickness, but rather are giving the poster a feeling of significance and importance, as if they are contributing in some way to the world. It's a bit of a cop out really. In addition to this, it is fun - right? I mean the word 'game' was used in that email that I received and deleted.

First let me tell you that I don't need any secretive Facebook posting to inform me about cancer. I have watched many family members, friends and work colleagues fall prey to this terrible disease and lose their beautiful lives prematurely. None of us is so lacking in knowledge that we do not know what cancer is and what it does. It is no 'game'. It rips lives apart. It shatters peoples' bodies, minds and confidence. It leaves individuals feeling lonely, exhausted and unable to work or even do basic household duties. Many of these people right now, are lying in beds wishing they could get up and do their shopping, gardening, cooking or washing. But they can't. What exactly does your black and white picture or any other frivolous Facebook comment do for these people? Please explain.

I am declaring a war on these challenges. Unless you can be doing something directly good for cancer, I am not interested in you pictures or postings. If you are giving money, I am in. If you are going over to that family member or neighbour who is struggling and helping them to take that bath, or changing their chemo-drenched bed, again I am in. If you are part of a meal train for them, then I raise my hands and applaud you! If you are able to spend a few hours in their garden mowing the lawn so that they might look out to some beauty, I am cheering you on. You see there are many things you could and should be doing for cancer patients and none of them involve posting YOUR face on a social media site, unless of course it is raising money for that cause.

We need to get back to good old altruism. It should be less about ego and showing our latest black and white pouty poses. It should be more about rolling up our sleeves and doing good old fashioned work for cancer patients. That's what will have a real impact. You might not get attention. But then again why should you be seeking it? Helping a cancer patient directly might not change the world, but be sure that what you do will change the world for that one cancer patient. Go do it. Take pride in knowing that you worked hard for those who needed you. Help them with their washing, their weeding or their cooking. Take them to their hospital appointments. Spend time sitting with them and chatting to them. I for one will open up my wallet and sponsor any person who shows the character, strength and intelligence to know that these are the things that will really help our cancer patients.

This Black and White Challenge has left a bad taste in my mouth. This was made worse when reading a particular Facebook comment where one individual posted her glamorous black and white head shot whilst she was at work. On being asked why she was posting this, she answered, "Apparently you put up a black and white photo of yourself (obviously a good one) and put 'challenge accepted' to support breast cancer - a lovely and shameless way of getting attention for myself also." I rest my case. This 'grown up' had no clue what the challenge was about, didn't really care and indeed had no shame in admitting that it was really all about her. Case closed!

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