Spring is in the air in parts of the United States, and that means people are getting outside more — but it also means the latest social media challenges are now making the rounds. While many are harmless, others can be extremely dangerous.
That appears to be the case with the “Splat Gun Challenge,” which began earlier this month on TikTok.
It encourages individuals to fire airsoft guns that fire water-soaked Orbeez pellets at unsuspecting strangers and record the activities. In some of the videos circulating on the platform, users have been seen conducting “drive-by” shootings, authorities have warned.
“We have had several situations in the county where children, college age children, adults walking on the sidewalk have been targeted and shot,” said Lt. Jason Deater of the Frederick County, Maryland Sheriff’s Office, to WTOP. “It scares people because they don’t know what’s going on. They don’t know right away what they’re going to get hit with.”
challenge not accepted
While the impact of Orbeez bullets is less painful than a paintball, the bullets can still cause injury, especially if they hit a person in sensitive areas like the eyes and ears. The other danger, of course, is that the person struck may believe they are being shot by a real gun and respond with deadly force, authorities also warn.
In Maryland, where the challenge appears to have started, it’s also a crime. Law enforcement officials have clarified that charges would differ by situation, but individuals could likely face charges of second-degree assault, a misdemeanor in the state.
And only if there is no injury.
There is also a possibility of property destruction if a person’s clothing or other belongings are damaged. Other possible charges include disorderly conduct and wanton destruction of property, while there could also be civil penalties.
In addition to Maryland, there were reports from Florida, Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York from individuals who participated in the challenge.
Stop these challenges
So far, social media platforms have been largely ineffective in stopping such challenges, even as law enforcement hopes to nip them in the bud.
“Human nature is thrill-seekers, and unfortunately it’s also the nature of social media that people want to ‘pump’ each other,” cautioned brand marketing expert and social media expert Scott Steinberg. “Some will always try to step things up with these challenges and that seems to be the case this year.”
The videos can make it look like a lot of fun, but it’s probably no laughing matter for the unsuspecting individuals who are the target. That’s why law enforcement is taking it very seriously, but it’s unclear if anyone will heed the warnings.
“You can publicize dangers and illegal activities, but whether that’s enough to actually deter someone remains to be seen,” Steinberg said. “It could also have the opposite effect, with some just wanting to join in because it’s taboo.”
Such challenges are likely to continue until – and probably even after – someone is seriously injured or killed.
“They’re getting more and more ridiculous, dangerous and over the top. Our society has a competitive nature to outdo one another, and these challenges certainly show that,” Steinberg said. “Where do you draw the line? I’m not sure. We already saw people get hurt in the milk crate challenge last year and that didn’t stop it. On the one hand, this could be Darwinism at work. “
Recon Analytics technology analyst Roger Entner was even more blunt in his assessment of such challenges: “To quote the eternal truths of Forrest Gump’s mother, ‘stupid is as stupid as can be,’ and there is no cure for stupidity.”