Last week, columnist Julianne Cuba urged Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to put an end to the online drinking game “Neknomination.” For those of you who haven’t heard of it, “Neknomination” is a drinking game in which participants post videos of themselves chugging a beer or an alcoholic beverage, and then nominate two or three other people to do the same. As Cuba mentioned in her column, the game escalated into far more disgusting beverage concoctions that included dead animals and even engine oil. According to Cuba, five deaths have already been linked to the drinking game.
She is completely right that these deaths were needless and tragic, and that the game in general is stupid. I did a “Neknomination” myself, and it was pretty pointless and immature. But does this mean that Zuckerberg and his Facebook team should ban them? Not necessarily.
Up to this point, most complaints about Facebook have been aimed at the website’s invasion of its users’ privacy and its overwhelming control and influence on their lives. When we ask Facebook to put an end to “Neknominations,” we are moving against these complaints in the wrong direction.
Facebook should not be allowed, let alone encouraged, to so rigorously monitor its users’ content. If people want to put up a video of themselves chugging a Blue Moon, or even a more disgusting drink, such as ketchup, vodka, whiskey and hot sauce — as immature as that might be — they have the right to do so. We should not be relying on Facebook to tell us what’s safe and what isn’t.
For the rare cases in which someone is chugging battery acid or something that is extremely harmful or potentially deadly, Facebook’s policies do give the website the right to take the video down. Under the “self-harm” section of its policies, the website states, “We remove any promotion or encouragement of self-mutilation, eating disorders or hard drug abuse.” From what I have seen, only a handful of “Neknominations” fall under the scope of this policy. Individual users should not be held responsible for the dumb actions of others just because what they posted may have inspired those dumb actions.
The game has also inspired some good. Under the hashtag #FeedTheDeed, some users, instead of nominating someone to drink a beverage, are nominating others to do a random act of kindness.
There are many problems with Facebook, but so far it has managed to be a fairly free platform for sharing just about anything. When we ask Zuckerberg to categorically ban this drinking game, we are stepping onto the slippery slope to far more paternalistic social media.
Editor’s Note: Columnist Julianne Cuba’s original column, “Stop the dangerous drinking games,” can be found here.