Family guide to viral online harmful challenges and hoaxes
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Instances of online challenges and hoaxes on social media have continued to rise, with social media providing a perfect platform for challenges and hoaxes to go viral. In recent years, some online viral challenges and hoaxes have caused widespread concern about the potential to cause serious harm.
Understanding and responding carefully to these trends is essential to keeping your child safe online.
What is an online challenge?
Online challenges generally involve users recording themselves taking part in a challenge, sharing it on social media and then encouraging or daring others to repeat the challenge. Online challenges come in many forms. Some can have a positive impact by promoting awareness of an issue or raising money for charity or research, such as the ‘ALS Ice Bucket Challenge’ which helped to raise $115 million in 2014. However, other challenges can have negative or even harmful impacts, including content that upsets or shocks and sometimes even physically injures those who take part.
What is an online hoax?
A hoax is intended to look truthful and can often take the form of an online scare story or a photograph, news article, video or meme.
What should I do if I see an online challenge or hoax?
It is crucial that any actions you take avoid unintentionally raising awareness of the harmful content. When responding the following should be considered.
Limit the spread
When you see an online challenge or hoax your first instinct may be to warn others. However, this may unintentionally increase curiosity and drive more people to search for the harmful content. The ‘Digital Ghost Stories’ report explains more about this.
Avoid naming the harmful content
Naming a harmful online challenge or hoax to your child or other parents and carers could run the risk of spreading the reach of the harmful content further. Focusing on the details of one specific challenge or hoax may be a missed opportunity to provide advice and guidance to your child that can be applied in the event of anything happening online that may worry, upset or offend them.
Talk and listen to your child
It’s important to give your child time and space to talk to you about anything which concerns them, including online issues. Online challenges and concerning content can bring up the need to talk about other concerning issues like self-harm and suicide.
Avoid showing any upsetting or scary content
It’s important to remember that even when something does go viral online it doesn’t mean that all children have seen or heard of it. Talk to your child about the risks of online challenges and hoaxes without showing them any examples or giving explicit details.
Talk to children about reporting and blocking
Social media, games and video platforms offer reporting and blocking tools which you can encourage your child to use. When making a report it is important that you support your child by giving as much context as possible when reporting the concerning post, message or account directly. You can find out more about how to make a report on Childnet’s website and the Report Harmful Content website.
Discuss peer pressure
One of the key issues raised over online challenges and other concerning content is that of peer pressure. Children and young people can sometimes be drawn into these challenges because it is what all their friends are doing or seem to be doing and saying ‘no’ can seem like a very hard thing to do.
There are also resources available that can support you to promote ethical behaviour online for your child and to provide them with strategies for managing their online environment to minimise the risk of viewing offensive content.
If you find any harmful content, you can also report it on the Report Harmful Content website.
Challenges and hoaxes
- ‘Online Safety Alerts – Think Before You Scare’ provides information on why sharing warnings can be counterproductive.
- The ‘Digital Ghost Stories’ report looks at the impact and risks of hoaxes.
- Samaritans share information about challenges relating to suicide and self-harm research into online suicide challenges.
- Keeping safe online ‘Stop the spread of Misinformation
Self-harm and suicide
- Samaritans: 'What to do if you see worrying suicide and self-harm content online'
- Samaritans: 'How to talk about suicide safely online'