Remember the time we used to build pillow forts, autotune ourselves in front of table fans, and genuinely enjoy touching grass without being told to do so? What about the simpler era where beach vacations meant no Dora The Explorer or Pac-Man, just digging for clams and napping in hammocks? Yeah, me neither.
If there’s one thing I remember about my childhood, it’s the fact that I was a chronic internet user. Mentally, I was always in cyberspace and, physically, on the family PC with a dial-up modem. Although it was rightly placed in my parents’ room, the supervision didn’t stop me from entering countless online communities—ultimately helping me build a knee-jerk reflex for switching tabs the moment someone walks in.
But among sus flash games, my questionable presence on Habbo Hotel, and even my dad’s Orkut account, lies a notorious list of ‘Don’t Google’ searches—a trend which was once purged from the internet for good, just to make its wildest comeback among young gen Zers on TikTok today.
Don’t Google, also known as ‘Don’t Look Up’ or ‘Don’t Google Translate’ trends, essentially refers to a slew of warnings issued against searching certain keywords on the world wide web. According to Google Trends, interest in the genre first peaked in November 2013, and then again in May 2014.
If you were online at the time, you’d have undoubtedly come across claims like “Don’t Google ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’,” or “Don’t ever search ‘1 Guy 1 Jar’.” And chances are that you did exactly what you were told not to do. As a result, you had your first brush with shock and gore websites, viewing some of the most disturbing content the internet had to offer before heading down for dinner like nothing happened.
Upon closer inspection, you’ll also notice how most of the trends used to follow a similar format like 2 Girls 1 Cup. Be it the infamous ‘1 Lunatic 1 Ice Pick’ or ‘3 Orangutans 1 Blender’, the phrasing essentially made the genre of videos recognisable from the get-go. At the same time, however, it led to the parallel rise of scepticism about the videos in question. For instance, in the case of 3 Orangutans 1 Blender, the only proof of the clip’s existence is a series of reaction videos where people allegedly watch the same—leaving viewers with only the background sound for company.
Considering how almost any audio could be superimposed over a basic reaction clip, the trend sparked a debate surrounding creators manufacturing shock factor with their clickbait content.
In my case, my initiation into Don’t Google trends was through reaction videos. Afraid to look it up myself but failing to quench my thirst for knowing what the search terms yield, I often sought refuge in people who filmed themselves Googling the same. But this was where I drew the line as a soon-to-be digital native. A pixelated explanation of the clip on YouTube and a quick scroll through the comments section was all it took to relieve my brain cells before they committed a sin they’d undoubtedly regret. But this is sadly not the case anymore in 2022.
After May 2014, ‘Don’t Google’ searches peaked again in May 2020 and April 2022. This resurgence can be majorly traced back to memes on r/okbuddyretard in 2019. Meanwhile, the first discovered video on TikTok went viral in October of the same year after it was shared by an account with the username @dont.google. And soon enough, chaos ensued.
It’s common knowledge that when you tell someone not to Google something, they’re obviously going to do it. In fact, telling a person not to do something in general, especially when it makes them curious about the results, is more of an encouragement than anything. Hence, it’s safe to say that ‘Don’t Google’ trends thrive on this reverse psychology.
Warning netizens against Googling certain terms, the claims seek to arouse their curiosity and bait them into making the search—ultimately cementing their exposure to shocking images and disturbing videos. But what’s even more concerning is that, this time around, the trend is increasingly gripping younger gen Zers on a platform that is now being hailed as the top news source for the generation.
“I’m not the same teen I was before I made a TikTok account like two years ago,” 19-year-old Daemon told me on Discord, adding that they’ve previously fallen down the Don’t Google rabbit holes of ‘degloved face’, ‘rainbow kiss’, and ‘blue waffle’ on the platform. “Every time I see a video telling me not to Google something, I have to do it. It’s become a habit and a sickness of mine.”
You’d think that our generation has learned from the mistakes made by millennials, who grew up knowing the dangers of such Google searches and regretting it ever since. Unfortunately, it seems like gen Zers have yet to foster and be recipients of a more wholesome era of the internet even today.
On these terms, it’s worth noting that younger gen Zers didn’t exactly grow up with the experience of an older sibling talking them into searching ‘Meatspin’ or ‘Tubgirl’ online. Maybe if they had been subjected to that one jumpscare car video which has evolved into a rite of passage for sibling rivalry worldwide, they might just think twice before blindly Googling everything that they come across on social media sites in 2022.
“My first Don’t Google search was ‘LEGO Piece 32557’ and it was just a penis-shaped block. So every time someone told me not to Google something, I used to think ‘How bad can it be?’ and text them: ‘I’ll brb’,” Daemon continued. However, things took a twisted turn after they fell for the keywords ‘3 Guys 1 Hammer’. “It scarred me and I’ll never forget the person who told me not to Google it.” As ironic as it sounds, this is exactly the appeal backing the trend.
At the same time, however, another user admitted that they find it entertaining to tell members of meme communities in particular not to Google certain terms. “I still sometimes spam people with DMs like ‘DON’T GOOGLE 1990 space movie and Art of the Zoo’,” they said. “I know stuff like this has once traumatised millennials, but I love freaking [out] people my age out on Discord.”
In a way, it’s the same motivation that backed the generation before us when it came to talking friends into looking up the vilest videos in existence. After all, the entire concept of seeing ‘forbidden’ clips that everyone knows their corneas are better off without is somewhat addictive. The only difference this time around is that TikTok has simplified the process to suit gen Zer’s pathetic attention span with short-form reaction videos.
Filming themselves both before and after Googling shocking terms, TikTokers have now aided interests in searches for ‘How did Dora die?’, ‘Saltyicecream’, and ‘Why were chainsaws invented?’ With the intention of tormenting fellow users, they’ve also found the format to be quite engaging for obvious reasons. And this has only led to a boom in such videos on the platform.
Back when I had my first brush with Don’t Google search terms, my hesitation to look them up partly stemmed from the concern that the shock and gore websites would install viruses on my PC or even track my data. With gen Zers now evolving into one of the demographics least concerned with how Big Tech uses their personal information, I hate to admit that the videos I watched in the name of ‘research’ for this article were without a VPN. What’s the worst that can happen, right?
At this point, we’re all pretty much desensitised to the type of disturbing content the internet has to offer. Be it doomscrolling or questionable trends like the Jeffrey Dahmer polaroid challenge, eye bleach content seems to be second nature on the internet today and willingly traumatising ourselves with a quick Google search has become part of growing up online.
“I don’t see any solution to this trend,” Daemon said. “Unless everyone on the internet agrees that we need to get rid of it or some new cyber laws [dictate] our actions.” At the end of the day, remember that just because something is trending, it doesn’t mean that it’s always a good idea. So go ahead, resume your bottomless TikTok scrolling but think twice before acting on a claim, even if it’s deploying reverse psychology tactics to bait you into making a choice you’d regret in the future.
Stay a step ahead and, most importantly, stay safe. We don’t want to give millennials the satisfaction to sit back and watch our generation experience the same psychological damage they once did, right?