The latest social media ‘challenge’ is dangerous, but probably won’t be around for long


Thousands participate the 16th Annual Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge where, for just $50 in pledges, Plunge participants take a quick dip in the Chesapeake Bay to raise funds for Special Olympics Maryland. Recently on social media, teens have been plunging into frigid waters, but not for charity and without medical supervision. (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Maybe it was this year’s miserable winter, but the latest trend for thrill seekers spreading wildly on the Internet involves jumping into freezing cold water for no (good) reason at all.

Unlike polar plunges that are usually done as charity events, and are often carefully monitored by medical professionals, the “24 hour polar plunge challenge” began as a popular pastime among teens and college aged people. It requires jumping into frigid — and in some cases, unsafe — waters for the thrill, and it’s quickly becoming broadly popular on social media sites.

Another reason the trend has spread rapidly online: Once you’re “challenged” or “called out” to do a polar plunge, you have 24 hours to complete it, then challenge someone else.

“I got dared by a friend. I was kind of hoping it would happen because I have fun doing that kind of stuff. I did it three days in a row this weekend,” one polar plunger Luke Detwiler told WCAX.

On YouTube, it’s easy to find dozens of videos uploaded just about every day of people (who incidentally are not always teenagers these days) filming the “plunges” they were challenged into.

The “polar plunge challenge” is neither the first, nor will it likely be the last idle trend that results in real world consequences.

From “swatting” to the “cinnamon challenge” to the even more recent airline bomb hoaxes on Twitter, social media has allowed the good, bad and the stupid to spread like wildfire.

Already, the phenomenon has transitioned from social trend to real-life headache.

In one case, the “plunge” craze is being blamed on the death of a 32-year old man, Aaron Hoyt, who is believed to have drowned in New Hampshire earlier this month while doing a polar plunge, although according to CBS Boston, authorities don’t believe he was dared.

“We believe Hoyt was aware of the Polar Plunge trend, and his likely death from this incident is a tragic reminder of just how dangerous actions such as those promoted by that trend can be,” said Lt. James Kneeland with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

Vermont police are now warning people to think about the real consequences to themselves if their polar plunge goes wrong.

Sgt. Ray LeBlanc of the Vermont State Police scuba team told WCAX on Monday that the practice can put people at risk of shock or hypothermia.

It almost goes without saying that having to mobilize search and rescue teams to recover polar plungers who find themselves in danger is an unnecessary expense.

In this case, however, with warmer weather on its way for most of the country, this particular YouTube craze may soon come to its inevitable end.

Abby Phillip is a general assignment national reporter for the Washington Post. She can be reached at abby.phillip@washpost.com. On Twitter: @abbydphillip
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