As prank videos become more and more dangerous, someone is bound to get seriously hurt or worse.
A terrifying and realistic "chainsaw massacre" prank, uploaded this past Wednesday, has already garnered over 26 million YouTube views. In it, a chainsaw-wielding psychopath drags a bloody, dismembered, corpse in a parking structure as unsuspecting passerbys scream and run from the carnage. Video from behind the scenes shows how the actor playing the victim was born with no legs and just one arm. With fake blood and realistic looking guts, it gives the genuine appearance of a frighteningly limbless body.
Extreme, senseless, YouTube pranks like this are sweeping the Internet, with dozens of prank-related channels, boasting millions of subscribers. I confess to how entertaining these videos are, but with pranks becoming more and more dangerous someone is bound to get seriously hurt or worse.
Actors in these videos have already been severely beaten, arrested and almost shot. In the "chainsaw massacre" prank someone could have easily been shot by a concealed carry permit holder, injured in the ensuing chaos or ended up dead from a heart attack.
Earlier this month, actors in a 'killer clown in the hood' prank video appeared to have a gun pulled out on them, and to be subsequently beaten by fearful bystanders. Thankful, no one was killed.
Of course not all pranks are harmful. Residents of several California towns and Fishers, Indiana, have recently been gripped with hysteria over creepy clown sightings. These sightings, like virtually all others in the past, have proven, so far, to be fun and harmless pranks.
Some pranks can even serve as incisive social experiments, cluing us into our biases, human behaviors, such as whether we would take action to stop public violence against women, or recognize a missing child. The ABC News show "What Would You Do?" does exactly that by thrusting people into real-life ethical scenarios to see how they would react. But the gratuitously violent and gory YouTube pranks likes "chainsaw massacre" only serve to terrify.
These shocking pranks also pose a danger to unsuspecting victims. Doctors say that "in extreme circumstances, you can even be 'scared to death,'" where "a terrible fright can result in a massive surge of adrenaline that stuns the heart so badly it stops beating." Scientific America reported how the flight-or-fight response to extreme fear releases chemical toxins, which in large amounts can damage organs "such as the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys."
Thinking you are about to be eaten by a zombie (29.5 million views), axed to death (4.2 million views), tortured with a drill and chainsaw (4.2 million views), or bludgeoned by a homicidal clown (28.8 million views) (these types of prank videos are all over YouTube) could be extremely traumatizing, lead to injury, in extreme cases death, PTSD and other sorts of trauma, especially in cases where victims never find out it was a prank, and continue to live with that fear.
There is a strong profit motive to make these videos. On a video with 20 million views, for example, the YouTubers estimated ad revenue could be anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000. With that kind of economic incentive people will continue producing these videos. And absent occasional instances of disorderly conduct or trespassing violations, these stunts are also generally legal.
Despite the fact that these shock videos are arguably a violation of YouTube's Community Guidelines since they contain "violent or gory content that's primarily intended to be shocking, sensational or disrespectful," YouTube also makes ad revenue on the videos, so they, too, have an incentive to keep them up.
But, if enough people stopped watching the dangerous prank videos there would be less economic incentive to create them. If we spoke out against these extreme videos, and YouTube suspended them as legitimate Terms of Service violations, this reckless practice could be curbed.
Let's hope it doesn't take a death for YouTube to start enforcing its guidelines and for people to stop watching these videos.