Guest Blog; Written by Lauren Johnson, @lojo_xo
I know what you’re thinking: here is yet another blog entry giving credit to the digital giant, mentor and social guru that is social media, responsible for so much and slandered by so many. Whether it benefits or betrays is up to you, but your participation remains the same: constant. So what happens when a new trend and challenge circulates? Do you prey to the advertising and brand promotion that comes with the territory, or do you shake it off and proclaim independence to the rest of the digital world? The social media challenge is the perfect tool to draw you into a world of people hopping on a bandwagon of proven ability, worthiness and, if unsuccessful, epic fails.
Social media challenges have existed for a good while now and have since become part of the long list of internet phenomena that demands our attention. For a long time I’ve been interested in why so many enthusiastically respond to join in on replicating dance moves, actions and sequences for the benefit of a hashtag and the potential to go viral. Challenges frequently arise and gain traction on social media on a regular basis. These are competitions spurred by celebrities and social media influencers to encourage followers to participate. They are also created to raise awareness in support of a cause. A couple of standout challenges over the years include: the ALS Ice Bucket challenge (remember that one!); the explosive 10 Year Challenge from 2019 which racked up 1.6 million posts on Instagram; or the ‘flip the switch’ challenge last year. Even in naming just those, many more come flooding to mind.
This doesn’t necessarily stay confined to the medium of video either. We also see challenges on writing, fitness and diet to name a few. The difference here is that carrying out these challenges can be done behind the scenes. It’s the ones that we show off to the world that prove more complex in my opinion. It is quite interesting to look at how challenges entice people to participate through promoting the idea of growth (with the 10 Year Challenge, for example) and a likeness to achieve the same results as others in the challenges that platforms and celebrities promote. All this in seeing whether you can create the best dance moves to go with a chart-topping song, or creating an incredibly short spin-on proposed concept. Or perhaps it is the one place where you can become a celebrity overnight by doing something completely comical and nonsensical.
There is no doubt that participating in challenges helps keep boredom at bay. Even in the age of COVID-19, millennials have found social media challenges as a way to connect with each other. If anything, this demonstrates how social participation is valued now more than ever before. Finding ways to join in has become one of the most difficult tasks of late, what with lockdowns having impacted so heavily on our ability to socialise. However, it would not suffice to ignore the marketing aspect of social media challenges. Numerous conspiracies have circulated around the nature of corporate bodies and/or celebrities starting these challenges. They’re often speculated to be a ploy on data collection, like the 10 Year Challenge was accused of doing for the purpose of collating facial recognition data. Hashtags along with platforms use trending challenges for advertising in order to encourage people to download their apps. We can’t help but ask, is consumerism getting the better of us here? At what cost are we joining in on the fun? Of course, this is a question you can ask for all participation in public platforms.
A bit like gambling, challenges can have serious consequences for those who take them more seriously than the average participant. Perhaps the focal point to take away for what this means is that it provides us our own area space to create, replicate and to showcase entertainment on a wider scale. In this way we can enjoy our participation in digital culture more transparently whilst simultaneously flexing creative muscles and skills that the world would not otherwise have a chance to see. Challenges become trends and it’s trendy to participate in challenges. I suppose there’s a sense of belonging that comes with participating in a challenge. Scrolling through your feed and seeing the latest craze activity can be quite stimulating. It’s something (that’s not Netflix) to watch, enjoy and share. We marvel at how creative a clip is or the lengths people have clearly gone to in order to get timings and transitions right in their videos, and to perform to the best of their ability. For many of us, watching others compete in challenges proves entertaining and this is surely something to keep us going.
In her own words, “Lauren is a freelance writer with a profound interest in culture and behaviour. Her articles focus on culture, lifestyle and the state of society. As a curious explorer, Lauren is always keen to discover events of the past and how they affect our future. She immensely enjoys sharing knowledge through writing with the hopes of turning words into action.”
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