Here’s the game, for which details are scarce: A child vanishes for two days, leaving friends and family panicked, and earns “points” for any Facebook updates, shares, comments, or likes regarding their whereabouts. Then, after 48 hours, the child reappears, safe and sound.
According to the Daily Mail, the prank is a spinoff from the “Game of 72,” which went viral in 2015 and had kids feigning their disappearance for 72 hours. “In a new twist on the so-called ‘game,’ participants get a higher score for each time they are mentioned on social media. That means that the ‘missing’ children are rewarded when worried parents ask Facebook friends for help to find them.”
On Monday, Belfast Live quoted a mother in Northern Ireland whose child recently played the 48-hour challenge. “This is a competition and it’s sick,” said the mom, who was anonymous. “The anxiety it left our family in is unspeakable. … 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.”
The mom added, “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.”
For what it’s worth, Snopes, a website that calls itself a “fact-checking site” for urban legends, has deemed the “Game of 72” fake news, due to flimsy evidence: a 2015 article published by the French newspaper the Local, which cites an underage girl named Emma who admitted to accepting a dare called “12, 24, 72” or “Game of 72.”
That same year, Mic also questioned the validity of the game. “We never issued a warning about the game as has been reported,” a Vancouver, British Columbia, police department representative told Mic in an email. “We responded to questions about it from media, and unfortunately, they turned it into a warning from police,” adding, “I am not even aware of any confirmed examples in Canada.”
It’s unclear how the 48-hour challenge sparked headlines on Friday; however, it could have been due to a missing-child case in the English countryside. According to the Daily Mail on Thursday, an 11-year-old girl who went missing (and was later found safe) inspired an online search party, which was mistakenly attributed to the 48-hour challenge. The girl’s grandmother condemned the game for any link to the case.
Still, teens should be aware of the potential legal consequences of faking a disappearance. “Normally [jail time] doesn’t happen on a first-offense misdemeanor,” FOX19 legal expert Mike Allen said Thursday. “However, you know, if you get a judge or a magistrate that wants to send a signal that this isn’t going to be tolerated, I mean, they could do some time at the juvenile facility.”
Why would a young person want to play such a prank? “Tweens and teens don’t have full access to ‘big picture’ thinking yet — that part of their brain is still maturing,” parenting expert Sharon Silver, creator of Proactive Parenting, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Silver adds that seeking attention or feeling vengeful toward their parents could be other reasons.
For kids who consider the prank funny, Silver suggests this exercise: “The child could search online and read about others who have played ‘harmless pranks.’ Sometimes the real-life results aren’t so funny.”
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