Kylie Jenner at the launch of the Kendall and Kylie Holiday Collection at PacSun in Woodfield Mall on Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, in Schaumburg, Ill. (Photo by Barry Brecheisen/Invision for Invision for PacSun/AP Images)

Best and Worst Social Media Challenges

This year has been full of social media challenges — some of them fun, some for charity, and some that are just downright outrageous (and not always in a good way!).

The challenges are usually short-lived, but spread quickly across the net, often spawning millions of new videos and photos and becoming lodged in our pop culture vernacular even after the frenzy of uploading content dies down. These challenges can even become cultural markers of the particular time when it was going on, since web tracking and analytic allow us to actually see exactly when trends really take hold.

Here we breakdown some of the biggest social media trends, giving the best and worst of what the social media nebulous has to offer.


Harlem Shake

harlem shake correct size

In 2013, the only song stuck in our heads was that one section from Harlem Shake. YouTuber Flithy Frank uploaded a video featuring the song Harlem Shake by Baauer, which was then picked up by TheSunnyCoastSkate who did the dance routine that is now burned into our retinas: the lone cool dance warrior rocking out to the beat in a room full of boring people, and when the beat drops, that dull crowd becomes transformed by said beat into a writhing mass of crazy dancing.

YouTube trends reported that as of February 15 2013, over 40,000 spinoffs had been uploaded, generating over 700 millions views. So, yes, while 2013 feels like eons ago (especially in internet time), we’re still listing this trend because of how explosive it was — it grew so fast and permeated so far that it’s still resonating even today!

We also wanted to include Harlem Shake because it’s one of the best social media trends. It’s lighthearted, involves dancing, and it was easy for anyone to participate. Everyone from sports teams (epic underwater swimmers edition, at almost 40 million views!) to military personnel (the Norwegian Army can get down, at almost 109 million views) to the office 9-to-5’ers (Maker Studio goes crazy, at 32 million views) have participated, making this a trend that eclipses geographical and cultural boundaries — everyone loves the Harlem Shake! 


 Ice Bucket Challenge


Still shivering from the summer 2014 Ice Bucket challenge craze?

This challenge was meant to raise awareness about the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease). To premise is that a person is prompted by someone in their network of friends to either donate to the ALS Association (or other ALS charities) or dump a bucket of ice water over their heads. The challenge is complete when they reach into their network of friends and pass the challenge along.

As for best or worst? This one is a little confounding.

On one hand, the ALS Association reported that from July 29 to August 29 (when popularity of the trend really hit the fan), they “raised $100.9 million in donations, compared to $2.8 million during the same time period last year.” 

However, critics of the challenge point out that a lot of the sensationalism around the challenge resulted in a loss of connection to ALS and became just about showing off on social media. Many celebrities took part in the challenge without even mentioning ALS or asking viewers to donate.

As reporter Arielle Pardes pointed out, the challenge is “like a game of Would-You-Rather involving the entire internet, where, appallingly, most Americans would rather dump ice water on their dead than donate to charity.”

However, the millions that ALS Association was raking in says otherwise — it seems that yes, while dumping water on your head is a little silly, at least the money came through. In an ideal world, there would have been more of an educational component and a focus on how the disease effects people’s lives, but for a viral campaign, that cool hundred mill is pretty impressive. We’d say this is one of the best campaigns. 


Kim K Break The Internet

Yes, this infamous NSFW Paper Magazine photoshoot did break the internet…but not in the sexy way we’re sure Kim K was hoping for.

In the wise words of Altimeter Group Principal Analyst Brian Solis, “Kim reflects all the things we hate about society and reality television … but she is also widely successful at it.”

Paper Magazine certainty wasn’t complaining; as of November 12 2014 (when the cover came out), their traffic hit 6.6 million page views.

This wasn’t so much a challenge as it was a feeding frenzy off the attention that Kim spawned with the photoshoot, reaping the benefits of being “on trend.”

And while it didn’t actually break the internet, it was a moment where the net exploded in new memes poking fun at the images (our favorite being the ones that transform Kim into a centaur). Even reputable companies jumped on the trickle-down bandwagon, including Nissan and the MET, who posted this equally hilarious and cringe-inducing tweet:


#breaktheinternet was hilarious and resulted in tons of parodies that we love (we can’t unseen the Little Mermaid Ursula version). We’d say this was actually one of the best — it was lighthearted and a moment for people to exercise their creative skill at creating new memes and images in response to the infamous spread.


Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge


Kylie Jenner before and after lip injections. That’s the work of a plastic surgeon, not a sucking on a shot glass! 

Does using a shot glass to suction your lips out into a swollen mess sound like a sexy idea to you?

Unfortunately, in April this year the internet exploded with tons of people think this a fun challenge to temporarily achieve the Kylie Jenner-esque full pout. Sorry, but to get those “Kylie lips” a shot glass won’t do it — it’s going to require a plastic surgeon (as even Kylie herself finally admitted).

The challenge involves using a glass (usually a small one, like a shot glass), inserting you lips, and sucking. The resulting suction causes the lips to swell — often in a disturbing way that can result in bruising, swelling, and discoloration.

Dermatologist Dr. Sherry Ingraham told the Inquisitir that while in the short term challengers will have some swelling, “in the long term, if you burst a blood vessel when trying to make your lips bigger, that can cause an indentation and scarring in the lips that’s permanent and can be very disfiguring.”

We’ll spare you pictures of the horrific results here, but believe it, it’s not pretty. This has to be one of the worst — if not THE worst — social media challenge of 2015. This challenge is all about playing off body insecurities, in an often dangerous way. No challenge should result in a visit to the hospital or damage to your body!

Don’t Judge Me / Ugly Challenge


The #DontJudgeChallenge involves making your appearance as “ugly” as possible — we’re talking drawn-on unibrows, messy hair, red “pimples” drawn all over the face. Participants shoot a video wearing this “ugly” face and then cover the camera lens with their hand — when they take their hand away, they cheese at the camera with their “beautiful face.”

Apparently, this is suppose to send the message from that old cliche “don’t judge a book by it’s cover.”

As some have pointed out, however, the challenge does the opposite of that — it puts a total emphasis on looks and reinforces the notion that beauty is what matters. After all, the challenge doesn’t show an “ugly” person who is shown doing charitable service or displaying the goodness of their heart and personality after the cut — it’s all about the looks.

So far this month, 2 million people have participated (in the span of two weeks!) and the numbers look like they will continue to grow across social media platforms.

The Don’t Judge challenge definitely missed the mark (and earned a spot on worst challenges) on this one; it’s clearly more about ego and vanity than anything else. However, it did open the door for people to fire back; the mounting criticism prompted by the challenge may actually do some good for encouraging people to love themselves and be proud of their appearances no matter what.

Aiden Alexander tweeted, “i hate the #dontjudgechallenge. having acne etc doesn’t make you ugly, stop belittling people by giving them the idea they aren’t beautiful.”

This theme is continued in the video below, from Jamie-lee Girvan (which we totally prefer to the #dontjudge videos). She starts out fully made-up and then in the next shot appears without any makeup, removes her wig to reveal her bald head, and smiles. “Don’t judge [because] we were born to be different,” she writes, “so be who you are and be happy.”

#dontjudgeabookbyitscover to all you little gimps and bitches putting eyeliner as spots to make you look ugly then u fix it and put make up on how about naw you ugly with make up this is what u should really do remove all the fake shit and don’t judge cause we were born to be different so be who you are and be happy ☺️❤️

Posted by Jamie-lee Girvan on Monday, July 6, 2015


It’s been a pretty crazy few years of challenges. Let us know in the comments which challenges you think you we should cover next, and whether you agree with our categorization of best and worst!

Violet Degnan

Violet Degnan

Blogger, researcher, and digital trend Analyst!
  • Staci Holmes

    Oh my god the harlem shake! I almost forgot about that one.

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