Examples: [Collected via e-mail and Facebook, June 2015]
Game of 72, a new facebook game encouraging kids to leave home for 72 hours? Just received it on a news item on my Facebook page.
Origins: The growing encroachment of social media into every area of life hasn't necessarily led to a rise in foolish teenage behavior, but it does seem to be fueling misguided parental ideas about how teenagers conspire to spend their free time.
The idea that dangerous social media challenges are popular seems to be on the upswing. The ice bucket challenge of mid-2014 may well have inspired the increase in social media challenge fads; but parental fears of largely non-existent practices such as "rainbow parties," vodka-infused tampons, bedbug smoking, and 'beezin preceded it.
In 2015, anxious parents feared that the paracetamol challenge would inspire their children to overdose on over-the-counter painkillers; and in the same vein, the 72-hour challenge (also known as the "Game of 72") prompted concerns that kids were participating in a pointless and dangerous social media fad.
In April 2015, the Daily Mail published a thinly-sourced article titled "Parents left terrified by cruel new 'game' on Facebook that sees children dare each other to vanish for 72 hours without telling relatives." As with other panics of similar nature, the article breathlessly described a "game" that sounded of no real interest to teens whatsoever and included scant evidence that participants were actually undertaking the purported challenge:
An alleged Facebook game which sees children dare each other to vanish without a trace for up to three days is spreading panic among parents in France.
The dare, dubbed the 'Game of 72', involves teenagers challenging each other to disappear without a word to their families for 12, 24 or 72 hours.
Authorities have been alerted to the game after a 13-year-old girl from northern France went missing for three days.
So far, police say, the only evidence is dozens of panicked Facebook posts being shared by parents, warning each other about the game, and Emma's testimony, to suggest the challenge exists.
That article referenced France's The Local, whose original article (also published on 29 April 2015) was far plainer in describing what was in all likelihood a classic urban legend of the crime-warning variety. The article admitted that the "Game of 72 could even be more of a hoax than an actual phenomenon" but went on to say that the "fact that officials are taking the incident seriously is perhaps unsurprising given France's troubling history when it comes to dangerous social media crazes":
News of the latest challenge came after a 13-year-old girl from northern France who went missing for three days finally turned up safe and well at her home at the weekend.
The girl, named Emma in the French press, reportedly refused to tell police or her parents where she had been or whom she had been with, but simply said she had taken on a dare through Facebook called '12, 24, 72' or 'Game of 72', as it is also known.
The Facebook challenge, meanwhile, has left authorities baffled — not least because they've been unable to actually find examples of it online. Rather, they've uncovered plenty of panicked postings from parents who are eager to warn each other about the game.
This one below says "Attention Danger!" and warns of "another stupid game doing the rounds on the net". It tells parents to explain to their children that its better to fail the dare rather have "something tragic happen to them."
The fact that a 13-year-old girl in France named Emma disappeared for three days at some point in April 2015 has been proffered as the sole piece of evidence documenting that the "Game of 72" is a real phenomenon. But there's just one problem — that story involving Emma didn't check out, according to police:
Francois Perain, the prosecutor in Valenciennes, the district where the incident took place, [said] that the game "seems to be an excuse".
"Actually we think that Emma joined up with someone when she ran away, and that was the main reason for her running away," he said.
"Everything points to the fact that the game (which may be imaginary) is the explanation that Emma gave as the reason why she ran away, and to protect the person she met. That person is currently being looked for by the police," he said.
Aside from that discredited story, the only evidence such a "challenge" had occurred consisted of ping-ponging warnings among French parents on social media sites issued after the fact. No one was even sure if the kids participating were hiding for 12, 24, or 72 hours.
It took about a week for the Game of 72 to make its way to North America, but by that point a "small number" of "temporary disappearances in Europe" had stolen French Emma's thunder:
Halton police are warning parents to talk to their children about a dangerous new “game” allegedly making the rounds on social media known as the Game of 72.
It encourages young people to disappear and stay hidden for 72 hours without contacting friends or family, said police.
The Game of 72 is being blamed for a small number of temporary disappearances in Europe, but so far, no missing person cases have been attributed to it in Canada or the U.S., according to media reports.
Even so, the game had Vancouver police worried enough to issue a warning about it earlier this week.
("Possibly one, maybe not" is indeed a very small number, and it should be noted that a social media challenge is a far better excuse to one's parents than "I snuck out and was scared to come home" or "I ran away and changed my mind.")
At around the same time, scattered police departments began to warn parents about the terrifying new craze:
On 7 May 2015, Mic published an article that cast doubt on whether the 72-hour challenge was a genuine teen fad or media invention. And much like the February 2015 rumor of measles parties, it seemed news outlets reached to find "evidence" of police concern about the purported trend:
"We never issued a warning about the game as has been reported," Constable Brian Montague, a spokesman for the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), said. "We responded to questions about it from media and unfortunately they turned it into a warning from police."
The VPD was featured in a recent news story about the fad, which included an interview with an online awareness expert. "The game's popularity shows that parents need to stay up to the minute on their kids' computer habits," the story reads.
On the contrary, Montague told Mic, the department hasn't come across any instances of the game in Vancouver. "I am not even aware of any confirmed examples in Canada," he said.
A lack of any confirmed incidents whatsoever and a corresponding absence of any social media chatter (aside from people wondering why kids would undertake the 72-hour challenge) didn't discourage news outlets from advancing the rumor once again in June 2015:
— Symphonie Privett (@sprivettKAIT) June 17, 2015
In a thread published by Kathy Sweeney of Southeastern Missouri television station KFVS, numerous users speculated that multiple reported disappearances were linked to the game. Sweeney claimed a "Facebook page" was "encouraging" kids to participate (but appeared to be unable to produce a link to it) and reiterated the unsupported assertion that the "game" had first appeared in Europe:
There's even a Facebook page dedicated to it — please share to warn other parents! ... Not sure but it apparently already made the rounds in Europe.
As BBC Trending blogger Mike Wendling observed about the "Game of 72":
For a "game" that is supposedly catching on all over the world, there's scant chatter about it on social media. Only a few hundred tweets have been sent about the "game" — most referencing news articles. Facebook searches in English and French throw up relatively few hits — and again, most link to media reports. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which runs the UK's best-known helpline for children, told Trending that they haven't received any calls about the "game".
Some of the coverage of the "game" compared it to other trends such as neknomination — the viral challenge where people were egging friends on to complete a dangerous and/or drinking-related stunt. But whereas neknomination was a real thing — as were other potentially dangerous games such as the "cinnamon challenge" — the "game of 72" appears to be nothing more than a lost-in-translation rumour.
Variations: In October 2017, readers spotted a resurgence of stories about a purported social media challenge, virtually identical to the "Game of 72" and dubbed the "48-hour challenge":
Ref: 72-Hour Challenge - Facebook missing hoax
This one is doing the rounds again but as the 48-hour challenge.
Much of the British tabloid media is reporting it, linking back to the above article on Belfast Live, quoting an unnamed Co Derry woman. Curiously there is no mention of this on BBC News website, presumably because it won't stand up!
I'd be interested to hear if this one is also believed to be a hoax.
Hi. Please cam you investigate the story run in UK media yesterday on Facebook "game" encouraging kids to go missing for 48 hours. Orginally reported by Belfast Live facebook page and then reported as fact by most UK papers yesterday. Obviously fake news.
Notably, the tale developed a new twist as it spread again. Although the 2015 scare implied the challenge was an example of teenagers upsetting their parents deliberately, the October 2017 version included a detail about how parental discomfort was measured in social media mentions and rewarded with advancement in the game. The 16 October 2017 BelfastLive article reported:
However, the 48-Hour Challenge has a distinct twist. Every mention the missing teen gets on social media increases their score. This means frantic parents asking Facebook followers for help only add to the “game”.
One Co Derry mum whose child disappeared recently said: “This is a competition and it’s sick. The anxiety it left our family in is unspeakable.
“My child and others left Co Down and Co Antrim and were found 55 hours later in Ballymena.
“I was terrified they were dead or would be raped, trafficked or killed. But these kids just think it’s funny. There was not even a moment of remorse when my child was taken into police custody and when the police brought my child home, I could see posts of selfies from the police car.
“I’ve been told my child and friends are in the lead in this competition because they managed to vanish for 55 hours before they were discovered.
“It was just terrifying and my child, who is 14, doesn’t seem to get it. They need a wake up call but I’m worried what that would be.”
BelfastLive quoted an unnamed parent (not police) about a single purported instance of the game being played by teenagers in Northern Ireland, reiterating the legend in detail but offering no information about how anyone involved learned the teen's disappearance had anything to do with a social media game. The woman said she had "been told" that her child was "in the lead," but didn't say or wasn't asked how she came by that information.
Moreover, after claiming that the number of mentions of a "missing" player on social media was how kids increased their score in the game, the article indicated the teen in question wasn't actually missing for 48 hours (thereby violating its primary parameter):
When police visited the teenager’s school pupils assured officers it was just a Facebook challenge and would be over within 48 hours. But the youngsters ignored the 48-hour goal and kept the game going.
The mum said: “We got lucky this time. Another teenager may not be so lucky and I dread to think of the consequences that could bring about.”
Sites like The Sun covered the purported fad, as did some American news outlets. None of the articles showed any indication teenagers were actually participating in the game:
These kids need educating on the seriousness of this sickening craze. Notwithstanding the waste of police resources! https://t.co/wETMVygZKL
— Caroline Lyons (@clyons_wilts) October 17, 2017
This is sick.
"48 Hour Challenge" Game circulating on Facebook -- encouraging kids to go missing! pic.twitter.com/2AAXN5y2QR
— Araksya Karapetyan (@Araksya) October 18, 2017
Parents have warned of a Facebook challenge in which teenagers dare each other to go missing for 48 hours https://t.co/g1XcWzxB1K
— The Times of London (@thetimes) October 18, 2017
Most articles referenced an individual parent (not police) claiming teenagers were daring one another to "go missing for 48 hours." References to the challenge were made primarily by social media users and news sites, and we were again unable to find any examples of teen participation on the platforms via which they purportedly "dared" each other to disappear. Most October 2017 articles about the "game" linked back to the poorly supported BelfastLive item, and once again "warnings" were disseminated by parents and tabloids -- not police.