Don’t be fooled by social media “pranksters”

Pranks can cross the line into abuse.

Source: Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

Social media has given rise to increasingly high stakes in pranks to gain views and money. A series of ‘prank’ videos posted on a monetized YouTube channel with 760,000 subscribers has led the channel’s creators to be accused of child neglect1. The couple’s children were removed from the home and given five years probation.

For the purposes of this article, a prank is defined as any planned “surprise” behavior that frightens or humiliates, or causes distress to the victim.

Spouses, partners, family members and friends were subjected to pranks involving gruesome scenes, physical injury and humiliation. When some victims confronted the pranksters, their worries were brushed aside or they were told they needed to “clear up”.

Sometimes prank victims wonder if they have the right to be upset, especially if the person doing the prank doesn’t take the victim’s concerns seriously. They should not. You have the right not to be tricked. You have the right to be treated with kindness and respect. You also have the right to speak up when you feel a sense of injustice or have witnessed injustice towards another person.

When you establish a boundary with this person, you may be told that you are “too sensitive”, that you “can’t stand a joke”, or similar statements. Ideally, someone would recognize your boundary, apologize for hurting you, and immediately stop any prank behavior. However, if a person was ever willing to humiliate you, make you feel uncomfortable, or was ever told that the behavior isn’t right for you, consider that you may never receive an apology or behaviour change.

If you told the person that this behavior is unacceptable and they continue to prank you, or if the prank was so harmful that it caused you distress, you should seriously consider whether it is healthy to have that person in your life. In healthy relationships, a partner does not engage in behavior that knowingly hurts their partner.

Even if a person claims they did not know their behavior was abusive, it is still abuse. Claiming ignorance of his abusive behavior is no excuse for this.

Pranks can trigger past trauma, cause hypervigilance or an erosion of trust in a relationship. They can also be humiliating, especially when images of the prank are posted online.

Pranks can be considered a form of emotional or psychological abuse. Pranks can be a person’s way of trying to gain control over their partner, family members, or friends. Pranks can invoke fear and give the abuser a sense of power over others. If you constantly feel offbeat or walking on eggshells (hypervigilance) because of a prank, consider those pranks a form of abusive behavior. If a behavior bothers you, it’s a valid feeling.

If you’re considering pranking someone, ask yourself the following questions first:

  • Did the target of this prank say they want this behavior to stop, or show distress with pranks?
  • Is the target of the prank a vulnerable person, such as a child and/or a disabled person?
  • Does the prank involve animals?
  • Could this prank in any way harm a person, either psychologically, physically, or both?
  • Will this prank hurt your relationship in any way?
  • Are your motivations for the prank to cause alarm, to get attention, to make money from video views?
  • Would a reasonable person find the prank offensive, hurtful, shameful or humiliating?
  • Do you have feelings of anger or resentment towards the target of the prank?
  • Have you been told in the past that your behavior was abusive?

Do not engage in this prank if you answered “yes” to any of the questions above. If you find pranking has become a compulsion or if you feel rushed during or after pranking, seek help from a mental health professional.

Also consider talking to a mental health professional if you’ve been pranked that resulted in harm and humiliation.

To find a therapist near you, visit Psychology Today’s Directory of Therapies.

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