In early January 2023, concerned parents posted on Facebook about a rumor that claimed to show a "cut yourself" self-harm and suicide game of "dares" that was being shared to kids on the online game platform Roblox.
In our research for this story, we read through Roblox's own community standards, which showed that the company had already implemented very strict guidelines and parental controls to keep children safe on the platform. We provide details about all of these policies later in this story.
After this article was originally published, we learned of a story involving a 15-year-old girl whose mother said she took her own life in her high school bathroom after having played Roblox, where she had been pressured by the game's users into harming herself for the sake of completing challenges.
We contacted Roblox with questions. We also reached out to one of the parents who posted that she saw the rumor being shared in a Facebook group for moms.
By email, a spokesperson for the company said an investigation had found no evidence of the self-harm challenge instructions content on its platform. This story will be updated if we receive a response from the Facebook user.
What Is Roblox?
For readers unfamiliar with what Roblox is all about, the platform allows players to use the company's Roblox Studio software to create their own games. Those user-created games can then be played with other users on the platform.
When did Roblox grow into what it is today? According to The Associated Press, "It became became wildly popular after the coronavirus pandemic closed schools and kept children indoors looking for something to do."
Aside from creating and playing games, Roblox offers the ability to fill out a profile, build a friends list, and send and receive messages, among a number of other features. With these features come an extensive set of guidelines and parental controls, which, again, are covered later in this story.
On Jan. 2, a Facebook user who identified herself as a mother posted, "TRIGGER WARNING! If your kids play Roblox, check their messages. There's a list of 'dares' going around encouraging self-harm and ☠️."
Included with the post was a screenshot from a phone that showed instructions for a self-harm game, which included various dangerous "dares." The instructions showed a date of "09-16-2022" and was titled, "The Game." As an example of the kind of dangerous content that was shown in the screenshot, the first part mentioned, "Part 1 - Use a blade to cut yourself, or make three eraser marks to equal one cut."
Other concerned parents who shared the post included a similar screenshot that was titled, "The Game-update.docx," which indicated that the instructions screenshot for the game likely was originally a Microsoft Word file attachment.
It's unclear who originally shared the screenshot on Facebook. Also unclear was who created the instructions for the dangerous game. Additionally, we don't know why a document dated from Sept. 16, 2022 was surfacing seemingly for the first time in January 2023.
Note: We have chosen to not show the screenshot of the instructions for the "game" as it contains information about self-harm and suicide.
The Death of Mena Willis
On Oct. 20, 2022, WLBT-TV, which is based in Jackson, Mississippi, published an article with the headline, "Mother warns parents of online game that led to the death of her 15-year-old daughter."
According to the story, a girl named Mena Willis took her own life in her high school bathroom. Her mother said that she had played Roblox and was pressured by users into completing a number of challenges involving self-harm, which sounded very similar to the .docx file that was being discussed on Facebook in January 2023:
"It was just a big shock. And just at one point, I just stopped and cried and cried. I couldn't breathe," said the older sister of Mena, Leloni Willis.
Mena's mother, Leslie Shoemake, says her daughter struggled with depression for almost 3 years - but with help from the school, Mena was able to manage it.
Then one day, everything changed when Mena came across a game inside Roblox where users pressured her into completing self-harming challenges, including cutting, hanging, and starving herself.
"In this event that the children refuse to complete the self-harming task the game on Roblox states that they will then harm the children's family members," Leslie said.
Leslie says her daughter was always trying to be a protector and often the listening ear for her family, and as a result, kept her troubles to herself.
"She will come and talk to us, though. Like everything's gonna be okay. And you just gotta you know, just give us encouragement," Leslie said.
This story will be updated in the future if we are able to learn more details about this incident.
Roblox's Community Standards
According to the screenshots shared by parents, the self-harm and suicide game that was supposedly being shared to children was sent via a .docx Microsoft Word file, "The Game-update.docx." However, Roblox's messaging system does not allow users to send attachments.
If this document was being shared to kids, it appeared that the only way that it could have been sent to them was by first directing the children to visit a link on YouTube, Facebook, Discord, Twitter, or Twitch.
The reason we mention this is because Roblox's community standards explicitly say that links shared between users may only go to those five websites. Links to any other websites are prohibited and cannot be sent.
The guidelines also say that it's against the company's policies to direct users to one of the five permitted websites if the goal of the sender is to get the recipient to visit a second, unpermitted website, such as a tweet that includes a link to a .docx file.
Further, Roblox's community standards say that users under the age of 13 aren't even permitted to share links and that it's against the rules to try to send filter-breaking or partial links to get around the messaging system's protections:
When using Roblox, you may not link to any external websites or services, except for: YouTube, Facebook, Discord, Twitter, and Twitch. Links to any of those approved sites must be wrapped in the applicable Policy API or listed in the Social Networks and Social Links settings of your profile or experience description page. Links that appear in locations where the API cannot be deployed - such as text chat - are prohibited. Any other links are prohibited, including:
- Links that contain Roblox-inappropriate content
- Partial links, filter-breaking, and permitted website links to non-permitted websites
- Encouraging others to visit unpermitted external links
For their privacy and safety, we don't permit users under 13 to share links.
Roblox also allows parents and guardians to turn on an "Account Restrictions" setting, which does the following:
Enabling Account Restrictions will lock an account's Contact Settings so that no other user can send messages nor chat in-app or in-experience. None of these Contact Settings can be individually adjusted when Account Restrictions are turned on.
Account Restrictions will also limit play to only experiences that are on a pre-approved list that has been verified as appropriate by Roblox. These experiences may contain some mild cartoon combat, but are less violent and do not feature guns. To ensure the best experience for younger players, our list is grounded in child development research and informed by industry standards.
On top of all of these policies, users are not allowed to share content regarding suicide or self-injury:
At Roblox, we take our users' well-being very seriously. We're here to help provide resources for those struggling with mental health, and we may communicate with law enforcement regarding credible threats of self-harm. We don't allow content or behavior that depicts, glorifies, or encourages suicide or self-injury, including:
- Describing methods for suicide
- Content that supports or depicts instances of self-harm
Other stipulations within Roblox's policies are that the company doesn't allow users who aren't friends to message children who are under the age of 13, nor does it let users change their ages on existing accounts to try to get around various age restrictions.
This story will be updated if any new information is brought to our attention.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health, suicide or substance use crisis or emotional distress, reach out 24/7 to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) by dialing or texting 988 or using chat services at suicidepreventionlifeline.org to connect to a trained crisis counselor.