Most viral social media challenges — think the Ice Bucket Challenge, Mannequin Challenge, Bottle Cap Challenge — requires some level of skill or personal sacrifice. Maybe it’s standing motionless alongside Jon Bon Jovi and Hillary Clinton on an airplane, or enduring discomfort for a noble cause. But the latest viral hit, the broomstick challenge, relies on pure chance. Or, if you ask some people, science.
On Wednesday, some dubious claims circulated on social media that NASA revealed the Earth’s gravitational pull allowed brooms to stand upright only on February 10. Save for the part where brooms can stand up on their own, no other part was true. Although it was debunked throughout the day — and more definitively today, when nearly as many broomstick owners pulled off the challenge — a new household trick was born. Whether or not it all started here, this was certainly one of the tweets to draw the most attention:
Of course, people, brands, and team Twitter accounts hopped on the trend yesterday and this morning, buying into the NASA hoax to varying degrees.
The scientific basis cited by many participants was false, but physics and the broom’s center of gravity are to thank for it standing upright unassisted. Due to the broom’s low center of gravity, the bristles can form a sort of tripod when placed on the floor at the correct angle — during all 365 days of the year. CNN recirculated an old video from 2012 featuring meteorologist Chad Myers explain this very concept. Apparently, the previous iteration of viral brooms credited the planetary alignment of Jupiter and Venus during the vernal equinox with their standing upright. The phony science is a constant, even if the particulars keep changing.
According to the BBC, #broomchallenge surfaced on Twitter for the first time this year back on February 4 from users in Mexico. Another post on February 8 linked the freestanding brooms to NASA. So there was immediate precedent for February 10 to be designated as NASA broom day, just none of it coming from NASA or other scientists.
Much like when common pop culture knowledge recirculates as a revelation every few weeks on Twitter, we’re doomed to the same deluge of memory-holed content. We’re in nothing if not an endless loop of forgetting and re-remembering fun things for the next generation to discover with a new variety of viral brain poisoning.