The games people play


YouTube already had a policy on challenges and pranks that put people at risk, but given the increased popularity of potentially harmful activities, the company has deemed it necessary to clarify its guidelines. Now, YouTube clips that depict dangerous or emotionally distressing pranks have been banned from the platform.

The move comes in response to so-called “challenges” that have sometimes resulted in death or injury. The stunts people pull on social media are out of this world. There are examples of social media users eating laundry detergent packets on camera, and people dousing themselves in flammable liquid and setting themselves alight. The former led to a spike in reported cases of illness in the US while a 12-year-old US girl gave herself burns to about 50 percent of her body in the latter.

Pranks that challenge are in vogue. They involve carrying out activities, such as driving while blindfolded. At least one person is known to have crashed as a result. Walking across train tracks, crossing a street, and cooking - all while blindfolded - are all considered challenges.

There are pranks where someone is tricked into thinking they are in severe danger, even if no real threat exists, for example, a home invasion or a drive-by shooting prank. There are scenarios where a child is tricked into believing his parents had died.

Many of the videos are meant to attract millions of views and make money off them. Last year, a woman in the US was sentenced to six months in prison after shooting dead her friend. They had hoped a video of their stunt, in which an encyclopedia was meant to protect the friend, would go viral on YouTube. One vlogger cemented his head into a microwave for his YouTube viewers.

YouTube has tried to discourage vloggers from attempting dangerous pranks by demonetizing the videos. However, it has failed to dissuade some on its platform who see such stunts as a way to gain viral fame, with some attempts leading to tragedy. YouTube says it is working to aggressively enforce the policies of revenues being made from these stunts, to eliminate the incentive for this abuse.

The site said it is currently working to remove videos that violate the new guidelines. It has given creators a grace period of two months to “review and clean up content” before the ban comes fully into effect. But YouTube appears to be struggling with controlling the content on its channels. The mere size of YouTube makes it virtually impossible to catch every prank.

Some videos, like a car seemingly being driven without a driver, is one thing. We laugh at those videos. They’re harmless. And usually the unsuspecting victim ends up laughing as well. But when is too far too far? When what’s funny crosses the line into also being harmful or dangerous. When pranks and stunts become seriously ill-advised at best, and deadly at worst. Even if it is not technically breaking any laws, police or other emergency services are called away from real emergency work to deal with a stupid prank, and that’s wrong, too.

People should stop watching prank videos. Because if they stop watching, the people who make the videos will realize that it’s a big waste of time. Some of these videos take a lot of time and effort; effort that could be better spent doing something else. If the public is not watching, they will stop making them.

The Internet in general is full of pranks that harm, from choking to online suicide games. Despite the crystal clear dangers involved in these games, plus their sheer stupidity, some fools don’t know the difference between right and wrong or what’s dangerous and what’s not. They risk being harmed, as do the copycats.

So, YouTube has to spell it out for them: No more uploading dangerous pranks or emotionally disturbing videos.