In March 2017, several English-language publications such as The Mirror and Daily Mail caught wind of an alleged Internet game that was tricking children in Russia into harming themselves by giving them "instructions" on how to become a fairy:
Russian police are investigating a sinister new craze sweeping the internet which urges children to become 'fire fairies' - by secretly turn on the gas rings on kitchen cookers.
The social media scam is created to look like a harmless prank modelled on popular animated series 'Winx Club: School of Witches'.
But children have been left seriously injured after trying to take part in the sickening 'game'.
This report does have some truth. A meme containing "instructions" on how to become a fairy has circulated on Russian social media sites such as VK.com, and at least one child was reportedly harmed after attempting to become a "fairy". However, subsequent reports filed under sensational titles such as "Sinister ‘fire fairy’ craze tells kids to switch on their stoves and burn themselves" and "5-Year-Old Badly Burned After Trying “Fire Fairy” Challenge" left many readers with some false impressions about this so-called game.
Here's a look at what this "fire fairy" game is and what it isn't.
How do you become a fairy? What's this all about?
This image contains a series of steps children can reportedly take in order to become a fairy. The instructions start out simple and innocent enough (spin three times and say magic words) but quickly devolve into something more dangerous. Here is a rough translation of the meme provided by the Mirror:
"At midnight when everybody is asleep, get up from your bed and go around the room three times, then say the magical words: "Alfey kingdom, sweet little fairies, give me the power, I'm asking you.
“Then go to the kitchen silently, so no one notices you or the magic of the words will disappear. Switch on the gas stove, all four burners. But do not light it. You don't want to get burns, do you?
“Then go to sleep. The magic gas will come to you, you will breathe it while sleeping and in the morning, when you wake up, say: "Thank you Alfeya, I've become a fairy." And you will became a real fairy of fire.
The two fairies shown are characters from the Winx Club: School of Fairies series:
Winx Club is a modern fantasy saga revolving around six fairies and their adventures. The protagonists Bloom, Stella, Flora, Aisha, Tecna and Musa live their daily life on Magix world, among lessons, loves, quarrels and moments of strong friendship. At any moment, when needed, they can transform into super-heroines, ready to defeat evil and save who is in danger.
The concern is that young fans of the show could encounter these potentially deadly instructions while searching for "how to become a fairy" online.
How many children have been harmed?
We were only able to find one report of a child coming to harm while trying to become a "fire fairy". The Russian web site pg21.ru reported in June 2016 that a five-year-old in Cheboksary, Russia suffered severe burns after watching the Winx cartoon:
... Sonia (watched the) cartoon Winx and wanted to be a fairy. (She) took the wooden sticks and turned on the gas stove. Then started waving them and the fire spread to clothes.
The initial report did not mention the meme (the child's actions do not not match the instructions), but a report from RIA.ru did link the incident to the "fire fairy" game. At least one other report was circulated on VK.com about a parent discovering their child attempting to become a fairy, but that incident has not been confirmed, nor did it result in any injuries.
Is this a new craze?
Humorous messages detailing different ways to become a fairy have been circulating on VK.com for several years. RIA.ru traced these "jokes" back to 2013 and found that the instructions ranged from innocent (make a fairy wish) to playful (place your hand in a bowl of ice water) to absurd (spread toothpaste on your hands).
These jokes eventually grew more dramatic, and in 2014 the meme appeared in a popular YouTube video. However, RIA.ru described the creator of the video as "sarcastic," implying that even though it contains potentially deadly instructions, it was most likely originally meant as a joke, and was not intended to actually inflict harm.
Alexander Arkhipov of the Russian Academy of Science said that the "fire fairy" rumor was popularized in 2015, when Russian clothing chain Gulliver held a competition asking people "how to become the fairy Winx":
As a result, in some countries, there are rumors of SMS messages and messages in social networks where children are told to include gas to become the fairy Winx, which riddled Kazakhstan in May 2016 and was recorded in Kazan in June 2016.
Regardless of the original intent of the image, it is not accurate to describe this meme as new, as it has been circulating for several years, and reports about children using these instructions are scarce.
Did the Winx Club create these instructions?
The meme was designed to look as if it was an official graphic from Winx Club, which is not the case. Iginio Straffi, chief executive of Rainbow (the company responsible for the Winx Club brand) condemned the message, asking Moscow prosecutors to open a criminal case against those responsible for its creation:
The company Rainbow deeply regrets the fact of distribution of material that apparently contains instructions for committing suicide and uses Winx Club characters. The company Rainbow, whose products are aimed at promoting the values of kindness in children, are shocked by such cynical materials apparently aimed at causing harm to children.
Are children harming themselves because of this "fire fairy" game?
The meme does contain a potentially deadly set of instructions, and since was modeled after a popular cartoon, there is legitimate concern that children may be fooled into harming themselves as they attempt to "become a fairy." In fact, at least one child has already been severely burned. However, it is not accurate to say that this is a "new craze" or that it has harmed multiple children.