Indian American-led study will help prevent death from viral videos on social media

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Logo of the Twitter and Facebook are seen through magnifier on display in this illustration taken in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

An Indian American-led research team at Clemson University in South Carolina is studying the dangers of viral videos on social that are leading to several deaths including suicides.

Industrial engineering assistant professor Kapil Chalil Madathil and his team of researchers will be analyzing these publicly available videos, from Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Twitter and YouTube, and will interview those between the ages of 13 and 25 who have participated in these self-harming challenges.

According to a press release, the funding for the project will be provided by the National Science Foundation.

Some of these challenges have encouraged participants to do random and weird tasks such as eat laundry detergent, set them on fire and stay awake for 48 hours.

This is the latest attempt to diminish the impact of these viral videos as while they may seem fun to teens, they have become a nightmare for parents as several deaths have occurred around the world.

“This will be the first empirical study to descriptively and critically analyze the content and potential harm posed by social media challenges, as well as identifying the characteristics that may contribute to their viral spread,” Madathil was quoted saying in the press release.

Madathil said the team decided to begin the project after they noticed several instances of self-harm caused from participating in such challenges, thus the project could lead to more research and ultimately to new ways of preventing suicides overall.

Social media sites have also begun to offer help to those who have taken up these self-harming challenges on social media sites.

Twitter, Reddit and YouTube even bring up the phone number for The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

In the first phase of the study, the group from Clemson will collaborate with researchers at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham School of Medicine in Kerala, India as they interview the victims and the second phase of the study will analyze 250 posts from the five social media sites, according to a press release.

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