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If you’ve been on any one the social media platforms recently, chances are you’ve seen the newest viral video challenge sweeping the world. The mannequin challenge involves a group of people who pose motionlessly to create a scene together, like mannequins. The challenge can include a small group of people, or involve an entire community. Mannequin challenges have been popping up across the globe, from family Thanksgivings to Prague raves.

Photo courtesy of JV Studios, LLC on Vimeo

Photo courtesy of JV Studios, LLC on Vimeo

The viral video challenge craze is unique because it transcends any specific social network, but still manages to take over all of them when a challenge sticks. Because videos are able to be shared over all of the top social networks, it enables them to go viral much quicker than a tweet or meme. Viral video challenges also incorporate a sense of community during the creation process, so while videos may not be inherently a social form of media, the planning and production behind them are undeniably social. In many ways, viral video challenges have begun to act as the bridge between the online world and the offline world, physically bringing together people to create something for the internet.

Viral video challenges aren’t just specific to the United States, or even the Western world. The trend has spread across the globe, and the potential implications are quite interesting. In an Expat Insider 2016 Survey, the Czech Republic and Russia were rated 3rd and 9th for unfriendliest, respectively. Any explanation for this would likely be a generalization, but since studying here, I’ve been told numerous times that the reserved and distant attitudes demonstrated are primarily due to a lack of trust between people, which could in part be due to the secret police forces that existed in Czechoslovakia and Russia from 1945 to 1990. There was a severe lack of community in these countries because there was no way of telling who would be your friend and who would get you arrested.

With the popularity of these challenges however, people are given a chance to find communities where they might not have otherwise found them. Take this video recently posted on YouTube from Moscow. It involves a large group of people participating in the mannequin challenge in a mall, the street and a grocery store. This type of video takes a sizable amount of planning, and requires cooperation and interaction from everyone involved. My question is: will these trends visibly affect culture in these eastern European countries?

I argue that people gain social capital when participating in these challenges. Similar to a flash mob, participants are presented the opportunity to network and make connections with other participants. These face-to-face connections might create stronger bonds than those made online, simply because active participation is required. So maybe through these connections, a stronger sense of community will be established in the greater environment. I’m not trying to make the claim that the viral video challenge is the be-all-end-all trend that improves community in these countries- that’s ridiculous. Change is already happening. The younger generations aren’t burdened with community distrust felt by their parents, but there do still exist stark differences between social norms in Russia and the Czech Republic compared to the United States.

The concept of being neighborly doesn’t exactly exist here. If you showed up at your neighbor’s doorstep in Prague with an apple pie, they would be more likely to think you escaped from the local mental hospital than think you were their new neighbor. But what if everyone in the apartment complex took part in the mannequin challenge? What if the gained social capital from the experience made everyone more inclined to act neighborly and create new communities? People tend to act more socially online than they do offline, and I think viral video challenges are helping fix that problem by mixing the two together: an offline experience for an online presence.

Featured Image courtesy of Flickr

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