Neknominate: just another way to massage our online ego

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Have you ever noticed that, often, someone’s Facebook profile will portray a ludicrously emphasised version of what their life actually is? If believed, people’s social media guises would give the impression that they were always partying, always with friends who are cooler than yours, always having a great time – a much better time than you.

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Of course no-one updates their Facebook status with “just me, this lukewarm chicken tikka ready meal and my crushing loneliness” – it seems a truism to say that social media are tools for the extension of the ego and are repositories of narcissism.

This is why I d not understand the outrage over ‘Neknominate’ – a craze that involves two really unsurprising, predictably lame, facets of the culture of our generation. The first is the narcissistic culture of social media; the second is ‘lad’ culture. Both these things are quite odious in isolation but form a kind of ‘double-whammy’ of internet predictability when combined. Its virility as a social media meme is based on it satisfying these two pillars. What better way to massage your online ego than prove you have friends enough to ‘nominate’ you, nominate others yourself, and distinguish yourself from your peers by your unique take on that goldmine of wit: drinking a quantity of alcohol.

This is also the strength behind Movember. Movember has blown up over the last few years and the aim of starting conversations about men’s health has certainly been achieved. Discounting the overtly good intentions behind something like Movember for a second, the reason why that has done so well is because it has the inevitable ‘look at me’ factor.The incremental photo updates to social media showing the progress of the ‘tache and the endless repetition of the hashtag that this procures. The act of deliberately forgoing image for the sake of a cause or for ‘awareness’ is a strong enough meme that the cause has become ubiquitous, especially among students.

In universities, where there is enough image-concern and drinking culture to go around, something like Neknominate is inevitable. Hearteningly however, the trend has been transformed into a force for positive change. In Durham, where Neknominate has done the rounds, a student has reconfigured it into ‘Donate and Nominate’. Charitable donations are made and others are nominated to do likewise. This development has within it an inherent criticism of Neknominate as a trend that serves no purpose or ‘greater good’ and we may agree or disagree with that at our leisure.

The point remains that its success or failure will be decided on the basis of its satisfaction of social egos in a social media setting just like any other temporary trend and fleeting fad.

This does not denigrate or lessen the charitable impulse involved at all, but it does acknowledge the competition that exists between causes célèbre and the rules of the social media game.

Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr are powerful tools if used astutely. But now, in 2014, we should reserve our outrage for things truly deserving of it, not something so predictable and determinable as Neknominate.

Photograph: Madeleine Brown

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