'Neknomination': Deadly online drinking craze cleans up its act
The lethal 'game' has claimed several lives, but now some nominees prefer doing good to behaving badly
Emily Dugan is social affairs correspondent for The Independent, i and Independent on Sunday. She was previously a news reporter for The Independent on Sunday. Her investigations into human trafficking have twice been awarded Best Investigative Article at the Anti-Slavery Day Media Awards and her human rights journalism was shortlisted for the Gaby Rado Memorial prize at the 2012 Amnesty Media Awards.
Sunday 09 February 2014
Standing in front of a camera in his kitchen, 22-year-old Oakley opens a bottle of sambuca, fills a pint glass almost to the top and pours in a dash of WKD Irn Bru. In less than nine seconds he has swallowed the lot. Choking slightly, he points at the lens and reels off three friends' names to take up the challenge, saying: "You've got 24 hours, lads. Get it done."
Oakley is one of thousands of Britons who have taken part in neknomination, an online drinking craze that has escalated to lethal levels as its young participants try ever more hazardous stunts.
Just hours before Oakley uploaded his video last Sunday evening, the body of Jonny Byrne, 19, was discovered in the river at Milford Bridge in Co Carlow after he jumped in as part of a "nomination". Ross Cummins, 22, died in hospital after being found unconscious at home in Dublin. He is understood to have been drinking spirits at the time and had previously taken part in the game. (Neither death had any connection to Oakley.)
The craze is believed to have started between college friends in Western Australia, before spreading across the world. What began as drinking just a pint of beer or a shot for the camera and nominating a friend to do the same has escalated into more and more outlandish videos.
A Durham woman rides a horse into a local supermarket for her neknomination Oakley, who does not want his surname published, thinks the game is still fine if people know their limits – though these limits do not apparently preclude drinking a pint of 42 per cent spirits. "Some people take this stuff too far," he said. "I did drink quite a lot of sambuca, which is a strong alcohol, but I did it in the safety of my own home. It was an awful lot, though. I poured way more than I meant to but I'd broken the seal of the bottle, so I couldn't start again."
Oakley, who has his own YouTube channel called Oakelfish, has had his drinking binge viewed by more than 27,000 people. "There are people like myself who are doing it for a laugh, but there are also people doing it with something to prove.
"Now it looks really stupid and not fun at all because people have died from it."
For Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, some are already taking things too far. He said: "This lethal 'game' shows just how hard we have to work to de-normalise binge drinking among young people. But it's not just about young people: they take their cues from society's attitude to drinking, and it's this we have to change for all our sakes."
Others have found different ways to shock. Johnnie, a 26-year-old tutor, filmed his friend dressed as a sheikh drink down a pint of beer in a Muslim area of Coventry and strip off in the road. "We've taken it down now," he says sheepishly of the YouTube clip. "Looking back, it probably wasn't the most intelligent thing to do."
Since the deaths, many people have pledged to remove their videos from the internet. One neknominate Facebook group has even been changed to an alcohol-awareness page. But Johnnie thinks such measures are too heavy-handed: "I think these pledges to get videos taken down are silly. If you're going to jump into a canal or a lake after a drink, there's a chance you might die.
"If you down a litre of spirits, there's a chance you might die, but if you're just having fun with it I don't see the problem."
Brent Lindeque feeds a homeless man instead A more imaginative backlash against the drinking culture encouraged by the game was started by South African Brent Lindeque. Having received a neknomination, he posted a video of himself handing out a packed lunch to a homeless man from his car, and it went viral.
Allan Price, a friend of Mr Lindeque's who now lives in London, decided to bring the idea to Britain. Mr Price, 34, filmed himself distributing 10 £10 notes across the capital. Each was in a plastic bag with a piece of paper instructing its finder to spend it on a good deed.
Mr Price said: "I was nominated by my cousin who was already drunk when he did four shots and a tumbler of spirits for his neknomination. I wanted to do something cooler.
"It's not as if I can afford £100, but doing something that helped people felt really awesome."
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