Ever since a teenage girl in France disappeared for three days last month and blamed it on a dangerous new social media trend called Game of 72, parents and authorities have been on edge.
Also known as "12, 24, 72," Game of 72 is supposedly a social media challenge, where one teenager will dare another via a direct message to disappear for 12, 24 or 72 hours.
Police departments are sending out notices, concerned parents are sharing dire warnings on Facebook, and the rumour mill is connecting this apparent phenomenon to other cases of missing teens.
But worried parents can relax — those in the know say it hasn’t taken hold in Canada. And experts say it probably never will.
"I don’t think it’s going to take off," says Jennifer Shapka, a University of British Columbia educational psychology professor who specializes in teenagers and technology. "Especially now that the cat’s out of the bag."
WHERE DID IT COME FROM?
News began to spread after French news network RTL reported that a 13-year-old girl named Emma disappeared for three days only to resurface and tell Paris police about Game of 72.
"I was looking at pictures on the Internet when I came upon this game," RTL quotes the girl as saying. "The idea is to stay gone as long as possible and to frighten your parents."
British media seized upon the story and tried to connect it with last weekend’s disappearance of Essex girls Sammy Clarke, 14, and Siobhan Clarke, 15. But the only evidence cited connecting the girls to the game was speculation from neighbours who’d heard of it.
Police would not confirm any link to the game and, in fact, have arrested a 22-year-old man in connection with the missing girls.
IS IT HAPPENING IN CANADA?
Postmedia Network contacted police departments across the Canada, and none had seen any evidence of Game of 72.
"While a reminder to parents about speaking to their kids is a good idea and to have ongoing discussions about what they are doing online and on social media, we have not seen any examples of it happening in Vancouver," Const. Brian Montague with the Vancouver Police Department, said.
"Unfortunately these ‘games’ are only limited to the imagination of those who dream them up and those willing to play."
The Winnipeg Police Service, which has also not seen any evidence of it being played locally, echoed that sentiment.
"We encourage parents to learn more about this troubling game and have open discussions with youth in their care about it," Const. Jason Michalyshen said.
WHAT SHOULD PARENTS DO?
Jennifer Shapka, who studies how technology and special media influences teenagers development, says she understands the appeal Game of 72 might hold for young people, but thinks most are too smart to play along.
"It might be something that seems exciting. We live in an age where everyone knows your every movement. At this point in adolescent development, they’re trying to stand out and be noticed and certainly this could fit with that desire to be needed and gain attention," she said. "But I would say that for most adolescents, this would not be tempting."
Her advice? Talk to your teens. And don’t overreact.
"We know kids have this social world online and the main message parents get is it’s this dangerous, scary place. So instead of having open, healthy caring conversations, parents resort to controlling or taking the tech away," she said.
"None of this is about the technology. All of this is about relationships. So talk to the kids. Give the child an idea of what it would really be like if they disappeared for 24 hours. I think it would be easy to dissuade a child from invoking the wrath of the police department and the parents and the school."
— With files from Maryam Shah
TEEN TRENDS: DEBUNKED
Vodka-soaked tampons: In 2009, stories circulated of a dangerous fad among teenage girls inserting vodka-soaked tampons to get drunk. No evidence of the trend’s existence was ever found.
Japanese eye-licking: A viral 2013 story about Japanese students licking each other’s eyeballs was later traced back to a single story in a sensational tab with one anonymous source. Teachers and optometrists reported they’d never heard of it.
Knockout game: In 2011, rumour spread with the help of conservative pundits that black youths were clobbering innocent white people on dares. A Pittsburgh teacher attacked on video was held up as evidence of the game. The teacher later said there was no such thing as knockout game, and that he was simply assaulted.