WARNING: Some readers might find details in this story offensive.
After a “three… two… one…” countdown, the chanting comes from dozens of students standing in a circle outside a Fraser Valley high school – their cellphones raised to record with all eyes on one student in the centre who is holding a Red Solo cup.
The student then holds the cup, which is said to be filled with another student’s urine, and chugs the contents entirely, as the onlookers cheer and jump around.
The shocking, concerning and rather grotesque incident was caught on camera and, in predictable Generation Z fashion, was posted on a publicly viewable Instagram account. Apparently, the student did it for $500, according to the students who posted it.
Black Press Media has decided not to post the video in its entirety, nor identify the specific school, to protect the identity of the youth involved.
According to comments on the Instagram account, both the boy who drank the urine and the boy who provided it were suspended by school administration.
“Unfortunately, despite the massive support, the admins have suspended both of them for five days,” according to a caption under the now-deleted Instagram post. “This is an OUTRAGE everyone. We need to spread awareness.”
Later, another post was made spreading the idea that on Feb. 13 students should wear yellow or orange “in commemoration” of the “unjust suspension” of the two boys.
When contacted about whether the two were in fact suspended, the principal of the school said he “cannot discuss consequences for these students as it is a confidential matter between the school and the families.”
While the whole incident is understandably a big joke to the teenagers involved and those commenting and liking the posts, the fact that the video was posted on a public site, shared hundreds of times, leading to the suspension of two young people points to a worrying trend for those who study such behaviour.
Eric Meyers is an associate professor at the University of B.C.’s School of Information whose research focuses on youth behaviour online.
He said that despite youth today likely being the most knowledgeable in their own households when it comes to how social media apps operate, there is still a lack of understanding about how decisions made online can impact their futures.
“We are aware that young people make poor decisions online in part because they’re not aware of the consequences or they can’t imagine the consequences can apply to them,” Meyers said.
“There’s aspects of social media that are a bit intransparent to them, so they don’t understand the way that invisible audiences exist for their media that they create, that they put out in open forums like Instagram or Facebook… and you can imagine that young people don’t realize the potential reach of some of their media.”
In Meyers’ field of work, this misunderstanding has been coined as “context collapse.”
“You think you are speaking to one particular audience but instead you are speaking to everybody,” Meyers said. “The norms and expectations you would have in a face-to-face interaction disappear.”
Meyers likened a dare like the urine drinking to other events that test a person’s limits, like a hot dog eating contest.
“We have things like hot dog eating contests which encourage people in a very social space to gorge themselves in a way which isn’t normal, however the gross aspect of it is something that is particularly a young person’s experiment for the most part,” he said.
“Young people have feelings of invincibility of infallibility, they are particularly susceptible to peer pressure and they can’t imagine that something horrible can happen to them. Part of it is gaining experience and developing a sense of what their limits are.”
But the platitude that “kids will be kids” is met with different concerns when it’s posted on the internet – a data-based system with the purpose of permanently documenting the information that runs through it, no matter how hard someone tries to remove regrettable material.
So what can parents do when it comes to helping the children in their lives navigate what they post online?
“One is the issue of dares and challenges,” Meyers said. “Parents can certainly play a role in talking to young people about what that means, what the possible consequences are of doing idiotic things like drinking something gross or doing something potentially harmful.”
Meanwhile, parents can bring greater awareness to what it means to be online with their children, Meyers said.
“What it means to engage in these online interactions that have a permanent nature or at least a semi-permanent nature that is often easily replicable… copied, duplicated and passed over multiple media channels.”
“It really is a continually evolving space, so we need to stay vigilant,” he added.
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