Sprudge.com co-founder Zachary Carlsen has something he’d like to confess.
In November of 2013, I came across Porkulent’s brilliant satirical feature on smoking coffee. Porkulent is a tongue-in-cheek blog written by “Chef Enis LeConnard.” It hasn’t been updated since then, which is a shame, because it’s hilarious. I knew we just had to share this post with the world. The only question was how.
The mainstream media had finally calmed down on the bath salts scare (turns out, it wasn’t really a thing) and were scraping to find new, terrifying drug fads that teenagers were throwing up on YouTube. Seemed like the perfect opening for a little satire of our own.
In an effort to make the feature really “pop” I found some videos (honestly, only two) on YouTube with kids smoking coffee grounds (one was published in 2010, the other in 2012). Using those videos and the source material from Porkulent, we then fabricated the notion that this phenomenon was picking up steam. For a little extra flavor, I added on a list of potential side-effects from any form of excessive caffeine consumption, stuff like dizziness, changes in alertness, confusion, and muscle twitching. We also threw in some real-enough-sounding symptoms like “increased likelihood of outrageous behavior” and “urination — increased”, because really, wouldn’t you suffer the same effects from caffeine smoking as you would by brewing and drinking coffee? At least I imagine it’s true. Shit, it’s probably not true.
My headline, “Coffee Smoking: A Dangerous Viral Trend That’s Threatening Your Teen?” was in the click-baiting fashion that was en vogue at the time. We tweeted it out to parents:
Parents! Coffee Smoking: A Dangerous Viral Trend That’s Threatening Your Teen? http://t.co/zSSfmfiQ4x
— Sprudge (@sprudge) November 13, 2013
The story, predictably, did about as well as one might imagine – a few retweets, a guffaw or two, and then, like a fart in the wind, it was gone.
That is, until very recently, when we noticed a significant spike in page views for this specific story.
Turns out, someone found the piece, and wrote a piece about the piece. Then another publication wrote a piece about the piece about the piece. Then it hit Gawker, thankfully with some appropriate skepticism, but the damage was already done. It had gone viral. So of course, Vice Magazine posted a piece where they assigned one of their writers to actually attempt smoking coffee using various substance-smoking apparatuses.
For this, I’m deeply sorry. I’m sorry, Vice Magazine writer, for making your editors put you through this. I’m sorry, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, for making you task a writer with finding the origins of the fad. It was me. I did it.
And now there is a (mostly) straight-faced local news broadcast on this very serious and dangerous new trend “going viral amongst teens.”
Truly, I am sorry for whatever role I may have had in bringing this about. Please don’t smoke coffee. That’s not a thing, silly.
This is one of those “trends” that may or may not actually be real somewhere, but sure is an easy story for overworked media people to regurgitate. We’re sorry for falling into this trap, and for all the destruction wrought by people falling into that trap after us.