Plain speaking on 'neknomination' craze

The aftermath of tragedy has brought a torrent of ill-informed rhetoric about ‘neknomination’, says Peter O’Dwyer

THE Irish love a drink, no doubt. In many ways, our relationship with alcohol in this country is flawed and unhealthy, but what the ‘neknomination’ fad highlights is that we lap up the chance to scaremonger even more voraciously.

Recent days have brought a torrent of ill-informed, lazy rhetoric about the online craze that has been linked to two deaths.

Mr Justice Paul Carney’s remarks on Monday that “internet drinking contests” would lead to a tsunami of rapes and homicides were misplaced.

While not mentioned by name, it seems reasonable to suggest that Mr Justice Carney’s comments were motivated at least in part by the prominence of neknomination in the public consciousness in recent days.

Mr Justice Carney made the comments in sentencing a man who, after drinking six to seven pints of beer, raped an acquaintance.

What place “internet drinking contests” had in sentencing such a monster is beyond my comprehension. The mere mention of alcohol intimates that drink was an contributory factor, rather than taking a barbaric crime at face value and treating it as just that.

There were also calls this week for Facebook to step into the breach and remove necknomination videos from the site. Correctly, they refused to do so.

Policing our stupidity is not Facebook’s task, it’s our own — and for those perhaps too young to know any better, their parents.

Housing Minister Jan O’Sullivan displayed her ignorance on RTÉ’s Prime Time on Monday night by calling on the social media site to “take the page down”.

Neknomination videos are not housed on one convenient page but on thousands of individual profiles — taking down one page carrying the moniker will make absolutely no difference.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s vague mumblings on the issue didn’t inspire confidence that he was fully informed as to what he was discussing either.

For clarity’s sake then, neknomination is typically a situation whereby an individual is nominated to drink a pint of beer while being recorded. The individual then nominates two others to do likewise within 24 hours. From my experience, the person being nominated is sober and being recorded by another sober person in their own home or nearby. One pint and that’s it, job done, game over. If the pace at which the drink is consumed is much faster than is the norm then, conversely, the quantity is far less than during any night out — something seemingly overlooked in the discussion.

To my mind, the element of forced oneupmanship has been exaggerated too — if people have taken it upon themselves to raise the stakes, they largely did so of their own volition.

And for those that don’t understand its limited appeal, many of the videos are well-considered, funny, and inventive — I laughed at quite a few. They are an act of theatre, there for others to enjoy and yes, for the nominee to garner a few ‘likes’ along the way.

The tragedy is that some people took it too far — way beyond a laughing matter and beyond theatre to somewhere far more insidious and dangerous; a quasi-extreme sport. Stupidity took over.

Some got away with downing pints of vodka, cocktails of shorts, and other concoctions, while others escaped serious injury performing reckless stunts.

Tragically and inevitably, others did not get the chance to learn from the sort of foolish mistakes most of us have made at one point or another.

Jonny Byrne, 19, from Carlow died when he downed a pint of alcohol and jumped into the River Barrow on Saturday night.

Ross Cummins’s death has also been linked to neknomination and while it is accepted that he took part in the so-called game, it appears that his death may have been caused by apparently drinking a pint of whiskey in a separate incident. Either way, both deaths are tragic.

In the aftermath, Jonny Byrne’s heartbroken family made an entirely understandable plea to put an end to neknominations, and if others want to do likewise, all the better.

But beyond that, their deaths should not be used to further one point of view over another in related discussions. At present, half-truths are being presented as undisputable facts to support opinions on a tangled array of topics from alcohol abuse to social media and young people in general.

The phenomenon is being adopted as a neatly packaged illustration of any number of ills in Irish society but, as always, it’s never that simple.

The practice as it originated is not particularly dangerous, and the many people that contributed to its popularity by taking part should feel no unease in their actions now. Unfortunately, if people choose to take it further there is little we can do.

Whether it facilitates or exacerbates our drinking culture is a discussion worth having, although most take it as fact that it does, despite not fitting any definition of binge drinking I’m aware of — not the HSE’s or World Health Organisation’s anyway.

We’ll all rejoice when this latest fad is over, but in the meantime ignorant commentators, well-intentioned or otherwise, should not overstate its reach or power — now more than ever, a little common sense is needed across the board.

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