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Planking, an Internet craze turns deadly Add to ...

Planking, an Internet phenomenon that has people posting photos of themselves lying face down with their arms at their sides on desks, fridges, statues, pool tables - just about anything - is hardly the sort of thing a prime minister would weigh in on.

But following an accident on Sunday in which 20-year-old Acton Beale fell seven storeys to his death while "planking" on a narrow apartment balcony in Brisbane, Australia's Prime Minister has called for plankers to consider safety.

"There's a difference between a harmless bit of fun done somewhere that's really safe and taking a risk with your life," Julia Gillard told reporters on Sunday. "Everybody likes a bit of fun, but focus has to be on keeping yourself safe first."

It was originally called the Lying Down Game, and although no one seems to know exactly when and where the term "planking" originated, it has flourished under that name in Australia.

A Facebook group founded by Sam Weckert called Planking Australia is "liked" by more than 120,000 people. Planking is so popular Down Under that it's attracted everyone from a local television personality to one man who earlier this month planked on top of a police car. The man did so because he wanted to be the best planker there is, he told UPI, a news agency.

Other planking Facebook groups have launched in the U.S., Japan, Germany, France, Portugal, Denmark, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Canada. Planking is so widespread now that enthusiasts are about to celebrate the first World Planking Day, on May 25.

The event will still go on, although many groups are now stressing caution after Mr. Beale's death.

"We urge all of you to keep the planking safe. Please do not try extreme planking without proper support. If you think it is too dangerous - it is!" the website Letsplank.com wrote under the headline "Planking Registers its First Death."

The Planking Canada group on Facebook has photos of people planking on fences, a radiator, chairs and couches, the top of a fridge and railway tracks. Like many such groups, it also posts a set of common instructions for what to do when performing a plank, which includes this: "Your safety should always be considered. Properly thought through planking procedures should always go to plan. Never put yourself at undue risk, unless you are a seasoned Planker."

A discussion on Planking Australia's Facebook page about Mr. Beale's death was divided between those mourning what they saw as a tragedy and those decrying what they see as an idiotic pastime.

"Planking is the most stupid thing I have ever heard of, not only is it dangerous but it has gotten people in serious trouble with the law," Cameron Wilson wrote on the group's Facebook discussion page dedicated to Mr. Beale's death. A woman named Linda Browne called it a "stunt gone wrong and tragic."

Tragedy or idiocy, more planking injuries are inevitable, according to Ross Barnett, Queensland's deputy police commissioner.

"As people become more and more competitive and try more and more obscure and difficult episodes of planking, which inevitably lead to greater levels of risk, this is the sort of thing that will eventuate and no one wants to see that," he told Australian media.

Meanwhile, the man who founded the Planking Australia Facebook page is defending planking, saying it was never intended to be an extreme pursuit.

"Planking was started as a fun and quirky pastime," Mr. Weckert said in a statement. "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."

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Follow on Twitter: @Dave_McGinn

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