Police caution as 'planking' goes global16 may 2011, 10:52
Is it worth life in a wheelchair to take a funny photo to impress somebody you don't know on the Internet?
This is the question police in Australia have posed after a man died on Sunday taking part in the latest craze going viral on the Internet -- "planking".
Acton Beale, 20, plunged to his death after positioning himself for a picture on a balcony railing seven floors up in Brisbane after a night out drinking.
He was a "planker", a fast-growing group of people who lie flat on their stomachs with their arms against their bodies -- to resemble a plank -- in unusual and sometimes dangerous situations.
Photographs of their exploits are then shared through social media sites.
Little-known until last week when a man was charged with planking on a police car, the Planking Australia Facebook page has seen its number of fans soar from under 10,000 four days ago to almost 100,000 on Monday.
The craze, and news of Beale's death, has sparked copy-cat Facebook sites around the world, including Planking UK, Planking USA, Planking France and Planking Germany.
But police are worried that the fad could spin out of control.
"We don't have any problem with planking itself," Queensland Police Deputy Commissioner Ross Barnett told reporters.
"If you want to take a photograph of yourself planking on a park bench two foot off the ground, there are no risks to your health with that.
"But when you start doing it seven storeys up or lying across a railway line or in a range of other places that invite death or serious injury, that's what we have a concern about.
"Ultimately, is it worth life in a wheelchair to take a funny photo to impress somebody you don't know on the Internet?"
Prime Minister Julia Gillard also had words of caution on Monday.
"Well, I guess there's a difference between a harmless bit of fun... and taking a risk with your life," she said.
"This (death) is a really tragic thing -- there'd be a family that's just devastated today.
"So, my message would be everybody likes a bit of fun, but focus has to be on keeping yourself safe first."
Sam Weckert, the founder of the Facebook page dedicated to planking in Australia, denied the craze encourages people to take unnecessary risks.
"Planking was started as a fun and quirky past-time," he was quoted as saying by Australian media.
"While we have no control over the actions of others we'd like to encourage any members of the planking group and the general public to undertake this in a safe and responsible fashion."
"We would like to encourage all planking members as well as the media not to sensationalise this tragic event," he added, referring to Beale's death.
The trend has spawned how-to videos on YouTube and the term now has a Wikipedia entry.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, planking started to become popular several years ago in Europe and Japan, where it was known as "the lying down game".
But it has only taken off recently with the phrase "planking" believed to have been coined in Australia.
By Martin Parry from AFP