So, a part of you is thinking – no, hoping – that this title may have been click bait, right?
We’re sorry to disappoint, but if you’ve been paying attention to internet meme culture over the last year (and we won’t judge you if you haven’t), you’ll know that this was an all too real phenomenon that swept through millennial culture like a horrifying, yet hypnotising, disaster. You wanted to look away, but you couldn’t.
To keep it simple by way of explanation: people ate tide pods. Yes, you read that right. They willingly consumed poisonous, foul-tasting laundry detergent pods. Some for attention, some out of curiosity, others for reasons we don’t have time to thoroughly investigate in this post.
But the crux of the issue here is that consuming, or at least pretending to consume, a chemical product meant to deep clean your clothing became a fad in December 2017 and lasted throughout the following summer.
While some attributed the early interest in the pods to their appealing colour, texture and smell, the continued and long-lasting obsession boggles the rational mind and calls for further investigation.
Why would someone over the age of 5 willingly bite into a poisonous pod of laundry detergent? What did they stand to gain? Fame, notoriety, followers… for those involved in this scandal, it’s not quite the clear-cut answer we’d like.
Though the concept first appeared in a thread on the website Straight Dope1 in 2013 and popped up again on The Onion2 in October 2017, it wasn’t until December 2017 that the first Tide Pod meme began to go seriously viral. What made for a satirical article on a website dedicated to irony became something much bigger and more dangerous as it later morphed into an unnervingly real issue.
Poison Control, a toll-free medical hotline for American citizens which offers immediate advice regarding possible consumption of poisonous materials, began getting calls in early 2012, reporting ‘nearly 7,700 pod-related exposures to children age 5 years and younger’3 and at least eight deaths.
However, the number of people ingesting the pods only increased throughout 2018, as the meme made its way through all forms of social media. From Instagram to Facebook, to Reddit – different versions of the Tide Pod meme flooded the internet. And what quickly became the most damaging offshoot of the Tide Pod obsession was the ‘Tide Pod Challenge’, where people would record themselves biting down into the pod and then describe the taste, texture and overall gross-ness of the experience.
Though the participants in the Tide Pods Challenge often weren’t truly ingesting the pod’s contents, their video editing and staged reactions were meant to convince the audience they had indeed tasted it. And in the end, this had just as dangerous and damaging an effect on those that watched and then mimicked the act in real life.
After recording themselves with the pod, they would upload their videos using hashtags such as: #tidepodchallenge #tidepodmeme #tidepods. While this may have earned them their 15 minutes of fleeting internet fame, it had a much more long-lasting effect on the lives of the individuals and their families who were seriously injured or worse from engaging in the same experience.
At the end of the day, there’s no clear-cut explanation for this disturbing phenomenon. What people will and won’t do for attention cannot be accurately guessed or measured.
Of course, not every dangerous situation involving a Tide Pod can be traced back to this challenge, however, knowingly engaging in a challenge that would influence young children to follow suit and endanger themselves is irresponsible, to say the very least.
One thing is clear: the tide of the internet cannot be stopped, so preventing your children from seeing such content is not realistically possible.
Therefore, there are certain steps you can take within your home. Our advice: If you have small children, make sure to keep your chemical cleaners and laundry detergents on a high shelf or in a locked cupboard. Ensuring that they cannot easily access such products makes it far less likely they’ll be able to mimic a similar future trend, should one occur.
And if after reading this you’d rather not keep such chemicals in your home or you’ve just been turned off to the idea of doing laundry for a while, we understand.
While this was a peculiar and particularly unsettling time for internet/meme culture, it also shed light on some of human nature’s baser instincts: the desire for attention & approval, no matter the cost of achieving it.
1“About Us.” Straight Dope Message Board RSS, boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=709577.
2 DelMonico, Dylan. “So Help Me God, I’m Going To Eat One Of Those Multicolored Detergent Pods.” The Onion, The Onion, 18 Oct. 2017, http://www.theonion.com/so-help-me-god-i-m-going-to-eat-one-of-those-multicolo-1819585017.
3 Wikipedia contributors. “Consumption of Tide Pods.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 3 Oct. 2018. Web. 26 Oct. 2018.