Online drinking game 'new level of harm'

A Facebook craze that has dared people into funnelling spirits, drink-driving and even mistakenly setting themselves on fire is taking an already prevalent online binge drinking culture to a new level of harm, a Massey University researcher says.

Social media drinking game #Neknominate started as a chain-mail game in Britain in January last year. Over the past week New Zealanders have joined the so-called party.

The game requires people to film themselves downing a drink of alcohol, post it on a social media site, such as Facebook, and then nominate their friends to do the same.

Last night, All Black Steven Luatua publicly apologised after he appeared in an online video pouring a drink down another man's throat, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Massey University associate professor of psychology Antonia Lyons, who for the past three years has been researching the effects of social media on alcohol consumption in young people, said the craze was hugely risky.

"It starts with somebody sculling a beer, and then it goes on to more extreme versions of alcohol sculling like vodka and then to get noticed people start doing it while they're driving, skateboarding on roads through intersections. Some of the behaviour is just idiotic.

"The vodka sculling - people die drinking alcohol like that."

Lyons said there was already a massive number of alcohol-related posts on young people's Facebook walls because that was when people were more likely to be taking photos and socialising.

"What we know is that young people, when they're drinking they're already using Facebook - they're posting photos when they're queuing at bars and tagging friends.

"If you talk about peer-modelling - everybody on Facebook looks like they're drinking. It feels like that is what everybody is doing, because even if they're not, it's what people are talking about."

The use of the Neknominate hashtag opened up the videos to huge audiences, and meant it was more likely to normalise the behaviour among underage Facebook users, Lyons said.

"This takes it to another level.

"People are using mobile devices, they're able to upload it in real time, and they're doing it when they are very drunk so they're not thinking about the effects."

Netsafe chief executive Martin Cocker said the craze appeared to be a basic drinking game but because it was online there was greater potential for harm as people found themselves reaching massive audiences with their posts.

There was likely to be future consequences for those involved, in the form of dimmed job prospects, he said.

"Certain employers frown on that sort of behaviour and even if they don't and they're realistic about drinking as a part of culture, they are likely to frown upon the the person's inability to manage their own image."

Manawatu Standard