The Internet moves at the speed of light. So does online misinformation and misuse. No one person can keep up with it all, but a community can make a difference. I’ve seen posts come through my Facebook page that were fake but shared as real. My favorite one I’ve seen in the recent year was about Tilapia fish.

I found it difficult to believe that a fish could survive without bones or skin! And it appeared that the picture of the fish in this illustration did indeed have skin and, presumptively, bones.  I thought it odd that this was making it onto my Facebook feed without question, so I wanted to learn more about this image. I immediately went to Snopes, which is my first stop when questioning something on the internet. Snopes is a fact checking website and a good place to start if you want to validate something. After a quick visit, I learned that Tilapia do have skin and bones.  Snopes had more information about this meme, including when it started circulating and science facts about tilapia.

Below is information about some of the current internet “challenges,” hoaxes, and urban legends as well as information about how to research the truth about them.

Fake News Sites

I’ve also seen “news stories” posted by fake news sites; there are many out there that intentionally post hoaxes and misinformation. When you see something in the “news” check the source, or do a Google search about the website posting the information to see if it is reputable or one of the purposefully hoax websites. Here is a list of ones reported as fake news and hoaxes.  There are also satirical websites that will post “news” that’s more for entertainment. The Onion is probably the most recognizable.

Challenges, Hoaxes, and Urban Legends

Momo Challenge

Over the years there have been other, more concerning “challenges” shared online, through social media, and on broadcast news. The latest, which hit spring of 2019, was called the “Momo Challenge.”  I put together a statement on the Momo Challenge that has some great information and resources to have an educated discussion about this hoax if it would arise again. I first posted about Momo in summer of 2018 before it reignited in spring of 2019. The image that is being shared with the Momo Challenge is actually a sculpture. It appears to have been made by Link Factory, which is reported to be a Japanese special effects company. The title of the sculpture is reportedly “Mother Bird.”  You can see by the image how it would be easy to use scare children with this picture.

Blue Whale Challenge

The “Blue Whale” Challenge was making its rounds in 2016 in Russia and by 2017 in the US. The concept was to do something scary on day 1 and on day 50 of the “challenge” you were to kill yourself.  This drew concerns from parents and professionals, but there were no confirmed suicides linked to the “challenge.”  Dr. Justin Patchin from the Cyberbullying Research Center did a nice blog about this fake challenge. Please read the blog as he has some great information and thoughts.

Tide Pod Challenge

My favorite one to discuss at trainings is the “Tide Pod Challenge.” If you pay attention to the news, you have probably heard of this challenge- recording yourself eating a Tide Pod and uploading it to YouTube. The message from the media/social media is that a lot of kids are eating Tide Pods. Maybe you’ve seen the meme about the kids voting in the next election being the same ones eating Tide Pods today. Social media, news stories, and memes like this don’t give kids credit for being wise enough to know that eating a Tide Pod is not a good idea. During the spring of 2019, I spoke at 27 events to over 2000 adults who have children or work with children. At all of these trainings I asked attendees to raise their hands if they have heard of the Tide Pod Challenge. I’d estimate that 98% of individuals raised their hands. I then asked them to raise their hands if they have a child or have worked with a child that has eaten a Tide Pod. Out of over 2000 attendees, I estimated 8-10 people raised their hands to affirm that they knew of a youth that has tried eating a Tide Pod.

While this is not data from research, my point is that while most of us (and youth as well) have heard of the Tide Pod Challenge, we have to give credit to youth that they know eating a Tide Pod is unwise.  However, youth are curious and are more than willing to turn to YouTube to watch people who are willing to eat a Tide Pod. YouTube has since committed to taking down videos of kids engaging in dangerous challenges. In summation, just because you hear about the kids doing the latest “dangerous internet challenge” doesn’t mean that kids are actually doing the challenge.

Bird Box Challenge

The “Birdbox Challenge” is a reported “challenge” as a result of the Netflix movie Birdbox. In the movie, the characters cover their eyes to navigate society due to some unidentified psychological event that causes you to end your life if you open your eyes outdoors. One Utah teen reportedly crashed her car while doing this challenge. The police that responded to that incident, the Layton Police department, tweeted the picture of the crash advising people not to do the Birdbox Challenge while driving.  I suspect that if the police had not tweeted this picture, then the Birdbox Challenge would not have garnered as much attention from the media that it did. I am again hopeful that kids are wise enough to know not to cover their eyes while driving.

Salt & Ice Challenge

The “salt and ice” challenge is where an individual places salt on their skin and then ice to create a “burning” sensation. This can cause real physical damage. Read a blog from Brenda Cassidy, DNP, MSN, CPNP-PC on the medical consequences of this challenge.

The Choking Game

The “Choking Game” is a concern for the health and life of a child. Children have died from doing the choking game. Children will use their hands to tie a rope or belt around their neck in order to block blood flow to the brain with the goal of getting a euphoric feeling when the blood rushes back to the brain. There was a journal article in the American Academy of Pediatrics that stated that depressed youth may be more likely to participate in the choking game. The choking game isn’t new; I found an article from an episode of Oprah from 2005 where she interviewed the parents of a boy who died playing the choking game. When I was young, my friends and I engaged in a variation of this “game” in the mid 1980s. I’m sure the origins of this behavior go back even many years before that.  Here is an article with signs of the choking game signs of the choking game and how to talk to your kids about it.

Cinnamon Challenge

The Cinnamon Challenge was first reported online in 2001, began to escalate in 2007 and started to diminish in 2012. This is where an individual will attempt to eat a teaspoon of cinnamon in a minute. Cinnamon is ground tree bark and does not dissolve in water, and presumably saliva, so it makes this challenge difficult. There are medical concerns around this challenge and children have ended up in the hospital as a result.

Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge

The Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge appeared in 2015 where young girls were using a shot glass to help plump their lips to look like Kylie Jenner. Doctors have warned against the dangers of this behavior.

Fire Challenge

The Fire Challenge is where a person will put a flammable liquid on their body and light themselves on fire with water nearby to extinguish the fire. This is obviously a concern for safety, permanent bodily damage, or death. One youth who did set herself on fire is speaking out advising youth not to do this. I don’t believe there are large numbers of youth participating in this, but I don’t have any data to support my belief. As with the Tide Pod challenge, I believe youth can understand the dangers and not participate, but will go to a video source to watch others.

Youth will also be attracted to the hot pepper challenge. People should be aware of the health aspect of this before trying this challenge. In one case, a man tore his esophagus after eating Ghost peppers in an eating contest.

48 Hour Challenge (formerly the 72 Hour Challenge)

The 48 Hour Challenge started as the 72 Hour Challenge. This is where, per the legend, a youth will runaway for 48 hours so that they will get their picture on social media and the news. I’ve seen many articles where “police warn…” of this challenge. I have spoken with two officers, and they have not had any of these cases. I also found this article backing up my thoughts that this is a fake challenge as well. Snopes has also declared it an urban legend, and you can read more about where this challenge originated on their website.

You should talk to your children about these challenges. My kids who are 8 and 10 years old saw Momo on a school computer before I had a chance to talk to them. Youth will see these challenges and hoaxes, and they need us to help guide them to the truth. Help them use their critical thinking skills about the dangers in these challenges. Acknowledge that there will be peer pressure, and they will want to fit in but fitting in should never come at the cost of their health and safety, the health and safety of a friend, or at the expense of someone else’s feelings. As a parent, you should try to keep up to date with challenges with youth. Ask them what they are seeing, and they will tell you. We should also be a good role model for our youth. My kids watch intently how I behave. Since I always wear a helmet when I ride my bike, so do my kids. Trying the cinnamon challenge with your kids will not paint a good pathway for other challenges that will come along.

This is not a total list of internet challenges, hoaxes, and urban legends. Many more are out there and many more will come. I hope this is a helpful resource for you, and the next time you hear about kids using Burts Bees on their eyelids to get a buzz, smoking bedbugs to get high, snorting condoms, or using vodka infused tampons to get drunk, do a quick internet search before you panic. It might not be real.