A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

10 Internet Challenges in 2019 That Should Have Never Happened

Another year, another set of viral online stunts that put people in the hospital.

young man pouring ice water bucket on his head getting wet outdoors in internet viral media network challenge campaign to support degenerative sclerosis and neuronal disease and disorder ; Shutterstock ID 214403830; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): -
Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock

What are internet challenges?

Now that almost everyone—including many children and teens—have access to their own smartphones, it has never been easier to film yourself doing something and then post it online for all to see. Sure, people make videos giving makeup tutorials, unboxing new products, or reviewing the latest movie, but none of those quite have the allure of an internet challenge.

In the past decade, there have been plenty of viral online challenges, and 2019 was no exception. Some—like 2014’s Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised money for the ALS Association—have a purpose outside of getting clicks and likes on social media. But others are dumb or even dangerous, sending people to the hospital when they inevitably go wrong. According to the National Safety Council, “kids and young adults are harming themselves or others at an alarming rate in order to gain attention or boost their followers on social media.” Though there are not specific statistics over how many people end up in emergency rooms because of internet challenges, the NSC says that 29 percent of all hospital emergency department visits are injury-related.

What’s even more disturbing is that a 2019 study found that children who have symptoms of depression, behavioral disorders, or aggressive behaviors are more likely to participate in internet challenges. Fortunately, some action is being taken. For example, in January 2019, YouTube banned “dangerous challenges and pranks” from the platform. But even with the ban, people still found plenty of other social media with which to post their participation in internet challenges. Here are the internet challenges in 2019 that never should have happened. And just like internet challenges, pranks can go horribly wrong too, like these 13 April Fools’ jokes that did not go as planned.

Colorful laundry detergent pods. The green, blue and orange household cleaning products are used in washing machines to clean clothes. A 2018 trend had teens eating the soap as a viral video challenge
Stockpot Videos/Shutterstock

Tide Pod challenge

The Tide Pod challenge, where people film themselves eating these colorful laundry detergent packets, started in 2017 but remained an issue at the beginning of the year. A February 2019 article in Fortune detailed the dangerous side of these time-saving laundry products, including people taking part in the challenge. The article found that, according to the American Association for Poison Control Centers, laundry pods account for only 16 percent of the market, but make up 80 percent of all major injuries related to laundry detergent. That figure includes children who mistakenly eat the pods, thinking they are a snack.

Fire on water
Leigh Prather/Shutterstock

Fire challenge

If you think something called the “fire challenge” sounds dangerous, that’s because it definitely is. Basically, it involves people being doused in some sort of flammable liquid, like nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol, and then having someone set them on fire for a few seconds. The idea is that the alcohol will burn off quickly and the fire will be extinguished, but that doesn’t always happen. For example, a 12-year-old boy from Michigan spent four days in the hospital recovering from second-degree burns he got while completing the challenge. Find out how much money YouTubers really make to demystify the allure of becoming “internet famous.”

Young African-American woman with black blindfold on blue background
New Africa/Shutterstock

Bird Box challenge

In December 2018, Netflix released a movie called Bird Box starring Sandra Bullock, which featured her and her on-screen children blindfolding themselves before going outdoors. What should have ended there became a wildly popular challenge at the beginning of the year: the Bird Box challenge. This challenge involved people posting videos of themselves doing everyday tasks while blindfolded, and as you can imagine, it did not go over well with parents—or Netflix, for that matter. The company issued a statement on Twitter on January 2, 2019, urging viewers not to participate in the Bird Box challenge.

volunteers with black bags to collect garbage.

Vacuum challenge

Also known as the “trash bag challenge,” the vacuum challenge was another unfortunate 2019 viral hit. For this stunt, people placed themselves in large plastic bags (usually trash bags), tucked all their limbs in so they were in a little ball, and had someone vacuum all the air out of the bag. Though it may look funny, what’s particularly disturbing about this challenge is how many parents posted videos of themselves putting their children in garbage bags and sucking the air out with a vacuum, the Daily Beast points out. This just goes to show that parents can make terrible internet mistakes just like kids can. While you’re (hopefully!) not making any this extreme, you should know what you shouldn’t be sharing about your kids on social media.

Legs of a girl lying on a beach deckchair by the sea. The sun, painted on sunburnt skin of the foot with sunscreen. Toning
Natalya Lys/Shutterstock

Sunburn tattoo challenge

At this point, we all know that sunburns are a bad idea and can lead to things like skin cancer (not to mention wrinkles and discoloration), but that didn’t stop people in 2019 from taking part in the sunburn tattoo challenge. The premise was simple: take a stencil, place it on your skin, and then lay out in the sun long enough to get a sunburn. Remove the stencil, and voila—you have your very own, very red tattoo. Not surprisingly, dermatologists did not get behind this challenge and urged people to stop.

primary education, friendship, childhood, technology and people concept - group of happy elementary school students with smartphones and backpacks sitting on bench outdoors
Syda Productions/Shutterstock

Momo challenge

One of the creepiest internet challenges of 2019 was the Momo challenge. Though its origins are unknown, the basic premise is that people (usually kids) text a number supposedly belonging to “Momo” and receive instructions for a variety of escalating tasks—possibly ending in requesting that they take their own life. This challenge understandably upset a lot of parents but was largely debunked as a hoax— though the panic surrounding it was real. On the other hand, these 10 creepy urban legends turned out to be true.

Banana peel
LightField Studios/Shutterstock

Shell-on challenge

In this unfortunate 2019 viral challenge, people (again, usually young people) would post videos of themselves eating parts of food that you normally wouldn’t eat—think banana peels and eggshells. In some cases, they also appeared to be eating cardboard, paper, or plastic food wrappers. The good news is that this one was another example of a lot of hype around a challenge that may not have been as popular as the media coverage made it seem. Either way, doctors spoke out against the shell-on challenge, urging people not to eat orange peels and plastic wrappers.


Lip glue challenge

The Lip Glue Challenge originated on the social media platform TikTok and essentially is exactly what it sounds like. The person completing the challenge places some form of adhesive—whether it’s eyelash glue, superglue, or something else that’s sticky—on their cupid’s bow above their lip, and then glue the top of their lip up there. The final touch is placing some sort of colored lip product on to make it look like your lips are a lot fuller than they actually are. Though this is one of the more harmless challenges of the year, it’s still not something you should try at home. Of course, the internet has plenty of harmless things too, like these silly dog memes you’ll laugh at every time.

two women fighting, strangling, catfight, concept of domestic violence, physical assault crime

Choking challenge

The so-called choking challenge, where you either choke yourself or have someone else choke you so you experience a brief feeling of euphoria by depriving your brain of oxygen, has made the rounds on the internet for years. But it made news in 2019 when an Indiana mother said that the choking challenge caused her teenage son’s death in May. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the choking challenge was linked to the deaths of 82 people between the ages of six and 19, a majority of whom were male, from 1995 to 2007,

Young man calling after a crisis situation on city street. Themes crime, emergency medical service, fear or help.
Jaromir Chalabala/Shutterstock

48-hour challenge

In February 2019, police around the country warned parents of the 48-hour challenge, where children and teens supposedly went missing for 48 hours and turned it into a game by earning “points” via likes and engagement on social media. It’s unclear how many young people—if any—actually participated in this, but it gave parents something else to be worried about this year. And if you think internet challenges are wacky, wait until you see these words that have been added to the dictionary for 2019.

Elizabeth Yuko
Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and journalist covering politics, public health, pop culture, travel and the lesser-known histories of holidays and traditions for Reader's Digest. She's always mentally planning her next trip, which she'll base around visits to medical museums or former hospitals, flea markets, local cuisine and stays in unusual Airbnbs or historic hotels.