Tech

A porcelain challenge doesn’t have to be real to get views.

“I used to dabble in trying to make fake news that would openly say that it was fake, but still spread,” Derfey said. (He once planted a false rumor with surprising success that longtime YouTuber Hank Green had been arrested as a teenager for trying to steal a lemur from a zoo.)

On Sunday, Derphy and his friends watched the #PorcelainChallenge gain momentum and celebrated as it spawned headline in first media (“The TikTok porcelain challenge isn’t real, but it’s not a joke either.”) What followed was a steady parade of other headlines, some more gullible than others.

But reflex-dependent viral content has a short lifespan. When Derfi and I chatted three days after he posted his first porcelain test video, he could already tell that it wasn’t going to get as much distribution as he had hoped. TEAR.

However, viral moments can be resuscitated with the slightest touch of attention, turning into an undead trend stalking Facebook news feeds and panicked parent groups. Removing their original context can only make them more powerful. And questionable claims about viral teenage issues are often that kind of zombie, sometimes giving them a second life that’s much bigger (and arguably more dangerous) than the first.

For every “cinnamon challenge” (a real viral challenge from the early 2010s that made its way into the YouTube rounds and put participants at risk of some nasty health complications), there are even more stupid ideas on the Internet that won’t become popular until someone with a big audience of parents worries about them.

Just a couple of weeks ago, for example, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about cooking chicken at NyQuil, which caused a frenzy panic that would endanger Gen Z’s lives in the name of looks. Instead of, as reported by Buzzfeed Newsthe warning itself was the most viral thing about NyQuil chicken, sparking interest in a “trend” that wasn’t trending.

And in 2018, there was the “condom challenge,” which received a lot of media coverage as the latest life-threatening thing teens did online to get attention—“disclosing.” because the local news station attended a presentation at a Texas high school about the dangers teenagers face. In fact, in 2007 and 2013 there were a few small bursts of interest on the Internet about the condom problem, but there were few videos of people actually trying to put a condom up their nose. In each case, the fear of a crowd of teenagers about to take part in a dangerous competition has done more to spread it to a much wider audience than the challenge itself.

The porcelain challenge has all the elements of future zombie content. Its catchy name stands out like a bite on a hand. The posts and videos posted on social media by Derphy’s followers—and the secondary audience seeing the work of those Derphy replaced—are believable and independent of context.


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