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Facebook under pressure over online drinking game linked to Ireland deaths

Facebook was under pressure from lawmakers Tuesday to curb an online drinking game known as "Neknomination" after the phenomenon was linked to the recent deaths of two young men in Ireland.

Government ministers and pressure groups called on the social networking site to ban pages promoting the game - also known as "neck and nominate" - in which users are dared to down alcoholic drinks while being filmed performing a stunt.

Successful contestants can then nominate other users to complete a similar task. The game is thought to have originated in Australia but has grown into a worldwide phenomenon.

Professor Frank Murray, Chairman of the Royal College Physicians Ireland's Policy Group on Alcohol called the game "irresponsible and destructive," and called on Facebook to act.

It follows the case of Jonny Byrne, 19, who drowned Saturday night after jumping into the River Barrow south of Dublin while attempting to complete a challenge. 

The death was witnessed by his brother, Patrick, who also had to be rescued from the water. "I jumped in to try and save him and I had him nearly out, but he broke free from me and pushed me under the water, and I was nearly gone," Patrick Byrne told BBC Radio Ulster. 

Jonny's body was recovered Sunday morning, according to Irish state broadcaster, RTE.  

Patrick said the drinking game had getting out of hand as users tried to better each other’s stunts and it had “turned into a form of bullying” with those refusing challenges exposed to online ridicule.

His father, Joe, appealed to other teenagers to stop playing the game, telling RTE that for his family life would, "never be the same again."

"I’m pleading to every youngster to think of the things they’re doing," he said. "It has cost my son his life. The whole family is devastated and our lives will never be the same again."

Byrne's death followed that of 22-year-old Ross Cummins, who died in a Dublin hospital Saturday after also reportedly playing the game.

A "Neknomination" Facebook page set up for Irish players was taken down Monday. The founders told the Belfast Telegraph newspaper that it would be discontinued and will instead run as an alcohol awareness page on the social networking site. 

"All videos have been removed and we'd like to continue as a Neknomination awareness page, highlighting the dangers surrounding the game," a spokesman told the paper. 

Ireland's Minister for Communication, Pat Rabbitte, called on Facebook to introduce a ban on pages promoting the game.

He told the Irish Times that young people had primary responsibility not to take part in the "stupid" game but added that "it would be helpful if Facebook agreed to take down pages, which promote a stupid and silly phenomenon.”

Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny also appealed to young people to boycott the game as it “could end your life.”

However, Facebook ruled out a ban on pages promoting the game, explaining that the site aimed to "be a platform where people can share freely whilst still protecting the rights of others."   

"We do not tolerate content which is directly harmful, for example bullying, but controversial or offensive behavior is not necessarily against our rules," a spokesman said in an emailed statement to NBC News.

"We encourage people to report things to us which they feel breaks our rules so we can review and take action on a case by case basis," the statement added "We also give people the ability to remove themselves from an uncomfortable conversation through tools such as untagging and blocking."