I’m fed up of viral videos being treated like ‘social experiments’

You’re not even wearing a lab coat tho

A few months ago, I took part in a UBTV video that went viral and made national newspaper headlines.  In this video I, along with a few other students, watched and reacted to porn.  A jolly time was had by all and the video was a success, but in the news reports I noticed something surprising.  The whole video was being labelled as a “social experiment”, with journalists attempting to analyse what went on in a pseudo-scientific way. I thought I was taking part in an entertainment video, something Buzzfeed-esque to give Bristol students a giggle.  At no point was the word “experiment” thrown around.  There were no clipboards or safety goggles, no survey, no heart monitors.

The Daily Mail online referred to the video several times as a social experiment and proceeded to decode every blush and titter as evidence of some great scientific discovery, as though 13 willing volunteers could teach us something new about men and women.  I can’t help but feel a bit smug that I put a spanner in the Mail’s works by being the only girl not “recoiling in horror” at the footage.

‘Frankie, who admits she has watched porn before, seems less shocked than the others. But she is still unimpressed by the footage’

So what is a social experiment?  According to Wikipedia it’s a “research project conducted with human subjects in the real world that typically investigates the effects of a policy intervention by randomly assigning individuals, families, businesses, classrooms, or other units to different treatments or to a control condition that represents the status quo”.  So basically, these experiments aren’t done in clinics or labs under controlled conditions.  When done correctly, social experimentation can positively affect our society and tell us important things about how our brains work.  In the infamous Stanford Prison experiment, we learnt that power, or lack of it, can drive people mad.

But now every other video on YouTube seems to be a social experiment.  Some teach important lessons through their shock factor, where children are lured towards strangers with puppies or groomed online by internet pranksters out to teach them a lesson.  Social experiments which make us consider the lives of children, the homeless, and generally those who have it tougher than ourselves are important and can make a positive difference.  Some, however, are self-indulgent and trivial.  Adrian Gee, a YouTuber with over 240,000 subscribers, makes videos in which he goes up to people spouting inane drivel about their bodies or his own and constantly trying to chat girls up in creepy ways, all in the name of supposed experimentation. Another YouTuber example is Sam Pepper, who used the term social experiment to justify his video in which he pinched random women’s bottoms on the street.  He claims it was to draw attention to sexual abuse of men, which he did by sexually abusing women. Smart guy.

So for 2016 can we all please agree to stop bandying the term experiment about if we’re not actually learning anything important? I loved being part of that UBTV video but it taught society diddly squat.  Dropping your phone in a crowded place and filming people’s reactions taught us some people might steal phones, and some people might not. Fun to watch, but hardly groundbreaking. Let’s all stop kidding ourselves and leave the experimentation to those in the know.