from the streisanding-the-moral-panic dept
What is it with government agencies and the media teaming up to Streisand some dumb thing that almost no one has ever done or heard about, and turning it into a thing that everyone knows about?
Back in the heady days of 2018, the American Association of Poison Control Centers released a press release warning people about “potential poison exposure to single-load laundry packets.” The press release noted that poison control centers had “received well over 50,000 calls relating to liquid laundry packet exposures.” Within a day, the media turned this into “teens are daring each other to eat Tide pods.” And then there were tons of stories on the supposed “Tide pod challenge” that dumb kids were up to.
Except it was basically all nonsense. The actual data (which was also in that press release, though you had to get to the third paragraph — and who would ever bother reading that far?) was that a very, very small number of “intentional” exposure cases, and not all of those were ingestion. In fact, the grand total of idiots who intentionally put a Tide pod in their mouth was 86 over a period of two years. But, of course, with the press release and the media craziness, it was a story that was just too good to put into actual perspective. Especially because it allowed the media to jump into the kind of story it absolutely loves to write: kids doing dumb things on the internet.
The media eats these kinds of stories up.
And that’s true even though the number of videos on social media of teens calling people idiots for even daring to think of putting a Tide pod in their mouth far, far outnumbered the extraordinarily few videos of people actually putting a Tide pod in their mouth. As some people have noted, it’s way more dangerous to talk about teenagers as if they’re all too stupid to know not to put a Tide pod in their mouth.
But the media absolutely can’t resist.
Last year we wrote about lots of hand-wringing by the media and schools over a supposed TikTok challenge to slap a teacher. Except, again, it seemed mostly based off of a made up list that parents and school officials passed around on Facebook (not TikTok), and that the media blew up into such a big thing that schools literally shut down to avoid this made up threat of violence.
There was also the widely spread claim, without any support, that TikTok was giving teenagers Tourette syndrome (which, you know, is not how that works).
Anyway, that all takes us to this week, where the FDA (for whatever reason) released a consumer alert saying that people shouldn’t cook their chicken in NyQuil, calling it “a recent social media challenge.”
And, holy shit did this go viral:
You also had the usual “social media is evil” people who seem like they should know better, jump on board with the moral panicking:
But, of course, like all the earlier examples, this basically turned out to be a whole lot of hot air and nonsense, and adults freaking out over things that kids weren’t actually doing on social media.
As the fine folks at Buzzfeed tracked down, the whole thing started as a shitpost on 4chan where someone made a joke about cooking chicken in NyQuil. Also:
BuzzFeed News found some now-deleted TikToks from earlier this month in which people stitched themselves reacting with horror to those earlier viral videos, but did not make the chicken themselves.
In other words, it wasn’t ever a thing. It was a joke, and some people reacting to the joke.
And, then, of course, the FDA Streisanded the whole idea into becoming a thing.
According to data a TikTok spokesperson sent to BuzzFeed News, there were only five searches for NyQuil chicken content on the app on Sept. 14, one day before the FDA posted its statement. By Sept. 21, searches on the topic had increased by more than 1,400 times.
Nice work FDA and the gullible media. You did it. You made NyQuil Chicken into a thing that people knew about (and still, no one would be eating).
I’d like to hope that at some point people (and especially the media) would be a lot more skeptical of these kinds of moral panics, but I imagine we’ll all be dining on a gourmet meal of Tide Pods and NyQuil Chicken before that actually happens.