YouTube’s hot water challenge is a terrible idea.
When I was a kid, I dared my younger brother to snort a line of black pepper. At that age, wimping out of a dare was a BFD. So he accepted, bending down to position his nostril over the black-and-white spice. As soon as he took a sniff, the burning began. He ran screaming from the room and that’s all I remember.
This was before the internet was a thing and unfortunately, it looks like these kinds of childish dares have only gotten worse. Like, a lot worse.
I saw a headline this morning that jumped out at me. “11-Year-Old Girl Severely Burned After ‘Friends’ Pour Boiling Water On Her At Sleepover,” it read. What the fuck is wrong with kids these days? I thought as I clicked into the story.
What I learned was horrifying. This wasn’t a one-off thing, a cruel random act perpetuated by some dumb kids. It was part of a trend called “The Hot Water Challenge,” which originated (and later went viral) on YouTube.
The central conceit of the Hot Water Challenge is to hold your hand in a pot of lukewarm water while it rises to a boil. The idea?—?like the well-known parable of the frog?—?is to see if your hand will become acclimated to the extreme heat. (Hint: It doesn’t, and by the way, neither does the frog).
These days, kids are filming themselves performing The Challenge and daring their friends to do the same. However, as the stunt continues to gain popularity, the original premise got twisted. Kids?—?hungry for social media fame?—?are now filming themselves drinking scalding water through straws or just straight-up throwing it at their friends.
To give you a sense of how big this trend has become, look at the view counts on some of the more popular Hot Water Challenge videos on YouTube: some boast over a million views.
Recent casualties of the trend continue to make headlines. Last summer in North Carolina, a 10-year-old boy got third-degree burns after doing the challenge with his step brother. Now the boy, Wesley Smith, needs to have several surgeries and skin grafts as a result.
“When we got to the hospital and I actually seen it,” Smith’s step-father said, “I thought the poor boy had been through a war.”
Even more tragic? Just a couple weeks ago, an 8-year-old girl in Florida drank scalding hot water through a straw as part of the Hot Water Challenge. The girl, Kiari Pope, suffered severe burns in her throat and died a few days later.
So doesn’t YouTube bear some responsibility for providing a platform for these videos? After all, this trend would never have become a trend without YouTube.
“All videos uploaded to YouTube must comply with our Community Guidelines, which prohibit content that’s intended to incite violence or encourage dangerous activity,” a YouTube spokesperson told me. “We enforce these policies carefully, reviewing flagged videos on a case-by-case basis and removing all content that breaks the rules.”
So basically, someone has to click “report this video” for YouTube to review it and decide whether to take it down. But with so many Hot Water Challenge videos on YouTube (a quick search reveals more than 16 million) it seems impossible to take them all down in time.
To go back to the story I read this morning: it looks like the 11-year-old girl whose “friends” poured boiling water on her while she slept will survive. But Jamoneisha Merritt is so badly burned she no longer recognizes her own reflection.
This is what her mother wrote on Facebook a couple days after the incident:
Let us all heed those wise words.