Eating Tide Pods is a silly and dangerous internet challenge
By Samantha Phillips
Kristofer Wilster, director of environmental health with the Trumbull County Combined Health District, said it hasn’t received any reports of people getting sick after ingesting single-use detergent such as Tide Pods.
After people went on the internet and started challenging one another to eat them, however, the American Association of Poison Control Centers saw an increase of calls for help after people ingested them.
Some viral, silly internet challenges could be encouraged to support a good cause, but the implications of the recent internet challenge involving Tide detergent pods have led to deaths and calls for legislation.
“It’s one thing to do the Ice Bucket Challenge where you just dump water on your head and donate money. It’s another to put a poisonous substance in your mouth, something that can cause illness or death,” said Adam Earnheardt, chairman of Youngstown State University’s Department of Communication.
The Ice Bucket Challenge was created to raise money for the ALS Association in 2015. The Tide Pod Challenge seems to be gaining attention as a silly fad. The “joke” is that people should eat them because they are colorful like fruity candy, and teenagers especially took it as a challenge or a joke to garner attention.
On Feb. 7, The Washington Times reported New York lawmakers are trying to pass legislation to change the design of the detergent to discourage people from eating them, including using a stronger bittering agent to reduce the “pleasant smell.”
The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported its centers handled several cases of intentional exposure of single-use detergent among 13- to 19-year-olds – 175 since January.
The popularity and frequent exposure of social media makes it easy for something to become widespread quickly.
“When you get to the point where you see replication and imitation, it takes the meme to a new level. It turns into a gamification of the meme. That’s when it hits that critical mass where people are sharing it with one another and interpreting it as a challenge. That’s where it becomes dangerous,” Earnheardt said.
The AAPCC reported that eating the detergent could lead to seizures, pulmonary edema, respiratory arrest, coma and death.
“It’s definitely something that is being sensationalized, whether we are giving it too much attention in the media, that is one thing. But it’s worthy of some media attention,” he said.
Earnheardt said parents should educate their children and teenagers before they try something foolish for social media likes and shares.
“Parents can help combat this sensation. Most of it’s done through reasonable conversation. Tell your kids, ‘Be yourself, create your own content instead of replicating something that puts your life in danger,’” Earnheardt said.