Flunking the Facebook Intelligence Test

Sometimes the only way to win is not to play

Social media superstar hopefuls test their the limits of their balance - and health insurance coverage - with the popular “Milk Crate Challenge”


I like to think I’m not the type to slavishly follow fads, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune to hopping on board the occasional passing bandwagon. I admit that I danced the Macarena, I’ve played Pokemon Go, and yes, like so many others back in the early 1990s, I let my vanity get the better of me and adopted the “Rachel” hairstyle.

These days many of the hottest trends take place on social media. Some actually have a positive impact on society, like the Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised millions of dollars for ALS research. But many other social media “challenges” exist solely to give desperate attention-seekers an excuse to post videos of themselves engaging in ill-advised activities like consuming a spoonful of raw cinnamon powder or using the suction from a drinking glass to puff up one’s lips and look (theoretically) like model Kylie Jenner. 

But for pure stupidity, you’d have difficulty beating the recent “Milk Crate Challenge” trend which has individuals video themselves trying to climb up and down a series of steps precariously constructed out of stacked milk crates. The result is often a spectacular fall, followed by the riotous laughter of nearby friends as the contorted climber lies, twitching and moaning, across the collapsed remains of the milk crate steps. What a fun new trend!

Does Your Brain Have Any Cells In It?

For the purposes of this column I’m more interested in the less spectacular but possibly even dumber social media trend I’ve seen crop up — particularly on Facebook — of posts asking you to solve ridiculously simple brain teasers. Like, for example, the post’s text might read, “Name a fish that doesn’t have the letter ‘a’ in it. Bet you can’t!” or “Name a Texas city that doesn’t have the letter ‘e’ in it. This is tricky!”

Suffice it to say that yes, you can and no, it’s not tricky. These brain teasers are scarcely more challenging than that “Point to the picture of an elephant” cognitive test Trump used to brag about passing. Although in retrospect, he was probably just expressing relief that the test didn’t require him to drink a glass of water with one hand or descend a ramp at a normal walking pace.

But scroll down from one of these “Bet you can’t” posts and you’ll invariably discover that Facebook users by the thousands have raced to their keyboards to show off what smartypants they are by proudly commenting with the likes of “trout,” and “cod” or “Houston” and “Dallas” like they just unlocked the mystery of cold fusion. 

But I don’t really blame people for responding. It’s virtually impossible to see one of these posts and NOT start thinking about it. “Hmm, a breed of dog without an ‘o’ in the name…” And after a brief rumination you come up with one — “A beagle!” You feel pretty self-satisfied and want to share the good news. “Try to trick me, will you, random Facebook post? Not today!”

I do wonder, however, at what point these types of questions become so easy that people stop bothering to respond:

- Can you think of a day of the week ending in “y?” Bet you can’t!

- Name a US president whose last name ends in “ashington.” This is tricky!

- Try to think of a number between one and three — no using Google!

Facebook’s Got Your Number

Speaking of basic number problems, that’s another category of Facebook posts that’s been clogging our feeds in recent years. If you’re on Facebook, you’ve no doubt seen these posts, which typically ask you to solve a simple math equation like this one:

Countless users then dutifully post their guesses — is it 1? 16? 257? The hypotenuse? To get to the other side? And that’s when the comment sections light up with disagreements about whether the problem is solved by multiplying or dividing first, followed by bitter recriminations and nasty name-calling. All over simple arithmetic!

Meanwhile, across the globe math teachers who have spent their entire adult lives being told by strangers at cocktail parties how much they hated math in school tear their hair out while witnessing millions on Facebook heatedly accusing one another of being worse than Hitler over a dispute about the order of operations. 

On the bright side, at least these same math teachers now have a ready response whenever bored students learning about PEMDAS invariably roll their eyes and ask, “When will we ever need to know this?”

“When you’re arguing with complete strangers on Facebook, that’s when!”, the teachers can shoot back.

Why Are We Doing This Again?

What remains a mystery to me about both these types of posts is… what’s the point? I mean, I get the purpose of those scam “quizzes” that trick you into divulging the name of the street you grew up on, your childhood pet’s name, your mother’s maiden name and your bank’s routing number because this information will somehow determine which “Friends” character you most resemble.

But the purpose of these “intelligence test” posts continues to elude me. Just today I saw a new one, insisting that, “No girl’s name starts with ‘A’ and ends with ‘A,’” adding, “Prove me wrong!” And, like clockwork, the comments scroll down in an endless stream of names including “Anna,” “Andrea,” “Amanda,” “Alicia,” “Alexandra,” “Arianna” and “The Gettysburg Address” (OK, not *everyone* understands the question).

I’m sure these posts serve some purpose because they garner “engagement” and “eyeballs,” but frankly I’d prefer not to engage MY eyeballs with them any more. But good luck persuading Boomers on Facebook not to fall for clickbait, right? 

Unless… what if we turned it into a “challenge?” Maybe call it the “Don’t Respond to Inane Posts” (DRIP) Challenge. People could use the hashtag #DRIP to post videos of themselves blithely scrolling right past these dopey brain teasers, while the rest of us collectively cheer them on in the comments. 

At least for a while, anyway, until we inevitably go back to calling each other worse than Hitler.