- Reports about NyQuil chicken took off after the FDA issued a warning on September 15.
- Data shows that few people were interested in the dish before the FDA statement.
- Experts say NyQuil Chicken is another example of a “trend” with few real examples.
Earlier this month, social media users were shaking their heads at the latest example of Gen Z’s crazy antics: Chicken NyQuil. The slimy, teal concoction was the latest dangerous trend on social media, according to the US Food and Drug Administration, which pleaded with people not to cook the chicken in cold medicine. News of the warning began to spread through the media.
But the data doesn’t show NyQuil chicken was more than a few viral posts before the FDA announcement on Sept. 15. It was only after the warning that interest in NyQuil chicken increased.
Folklore experts note that the NyQuil Chicken Challenge appears to be the latest internet “trend” to receive massive coverage despite few or no real-life examples.
“Every week we have a new Tide Pod challenge, a new NyQuil chicken, a new Blue Whale suicide challenge,” said Andrew Peck, assistant professor of strategic communications at the University of Miami, whose research examines hoaxes, rumors and urban legends.
“From the perspective of a worried parent, this must all seem new and scary,” he added. “From a folklorist’s perspective, it’s something people have been doing for hundreds, if not thousands of years.”
What is Chicken Nyquil?
The FDA issued its warning after discovering “social media trends promoting dangerous drug misuse,” according to spokeswoman Courtney Rhodes.
The federal agency did not respond to questions about the number of people participating in the challenge before releasing its statement or whether any illnesses or deaths linked to NyQuil chicken have been reported.
TikTok confirmed that there were only five searches for NyQuil chicken on its platform on September 14, the day before the FDA issued its statement. As of September 21, there were approximately 7,000 searches, as first reported by Buzzfeed News.
Searching for “NyQuil chicken” and “sleeping chicken” on TikTok now directs viewers to a page stating that online challenges can be dangerous.
“This is not a trend on our platform, but we will remove content if found and strongly discourage anyone from engaging in behavior that could be harmful to themselves or others,” reads a statement from the social media platform.
Google Trends data also shows that searches for chicken NyQuil took off after the release of the FDA’s Sept. 15 statement.
Folklore experts say the alleged risks to children and adolescents exploding despite scant evidence of widespread trends are nothing new.
One example is the decades-long rumor that aliens planted razor blades, poison, pins, or drugs in Halloween candy to harm children. The only proven case happened in 1974, when a man put cyanide in his own son’s Pixy Stix.
Today, similar rumors can travel faster and reach more people via the Internet.
Peck referred to the “Momo Challenge”, an internet hoax that claimed people used WhatsApp and YouTube to convince children and teenagers to self-harm or kill themselves.
Then there were rumors of a “slap a teacher” challenge in 2021, which led to school systems issuing warnings and news outlets attributing violent incidents to the challenge.
A Harvard University report later found there was no evidence the challenge existed. Instead, it appears to have spread through groups of concerned parents and educators on Facebook, not among students on TikTok.
“People talking about something doesn’t mean they’re actually doing it,” said James Grimmelmann, professor of digital and information law at Cornell University.
Another recent example is the Tide Pod challenge, in which people filmed themselves biting into the brightly colored laundry detergent packets. The videos sparked public health warnings – including a “high alert” advisory from the American Association of Poison Control Centers – and numerous media reports.
Intentional exposures to single-load laundry detergent packets increased among 13-19 year olds, from 53 incidents in 2017 to 86 in the first three weeks of 2018 alone. But the cases have re-examined a small fraction of the more than 40 million teenagers in the United States
“Yes, there were a very small number of people who actually tried (the Tide Pod challenge). But the way it was portrayed was almost entirely satirical or parodic,” said Lynne McNeill, associate professor of folklore at Utah State University. “It will always seem like more people are trying it than they actually are.”
Is NyQuil Chicken Safe?
While there’s little evidence that NyQuil chicken was a widespread trend, there are videos and posts that show people cooking chicken with cold medicine — which the FDA warns could have serious side effects .
Sam Gordon, a 24-year-old content creator who has more than 60,000 followers on TikTok under the name narczilla, filmed himself taking a bite of cooked chicken at ZzzQuil in 2020. Goron said he didn’t Wasn’t aware of the other NyQuil chicken posts when he made his video. He has since deleted the post from TikTok.
Gordon clarified that the video was a joke that most young viewers seemed to be into.
“When you’re born online and have unfiltered internet access at such a young age, it’s terrible for your brain. Like, it’s not good. But the only thing is, you learn this pretty quickly. what’s wrong and what’s not, because that’s just what you’ve been through all your life,” he told USA TODAY. “It’s just a different style of humor that is just very, very marginal.”
Nonetheless, the FDA warns that cooking chicken in medications can be dangerous.
“Even if you don’t eat chicken, inhaling the drug vapors while cooking can cause high levels of the drug to enter your body. It could also injure your lungs,” the FDA said in its statement. “Put simply: someone could be taking a dangerously high amount of cough and cold medicine without even realizing it.”
McNeill said it was important for officials to intervene on internet fads that could be dangerous, but believes their statements could also cause damage and stoke generational divisions.
“People see these legends as proof that Gen Z is either wayward, lazy, or unintelligent,” she said. “It becomes a way to fire people because you think their actions are so insane, when in fact no one is really taking those actions.”
Official statements and subsequent media coverage of internet challenges could also increase the number of people taking part in the act, according to Peck.
“It may not have existed to begin with, but once you have enough eyeballs and it seems like it’s trending, that’s when you start getting copycats,” did he declare.
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