Intervention against chain messages

  • Awareness
  • 10/11/2016
  • Austrian Safer Internet Centre

For a while now, and especially since kids in primary schools have been using smartphones widely, gruesome chain messages spread by kids has become a relevant topic in trainings for those aged 8-11 years. Such chain messages are designed to be spread among kids, with every message stating that it should be sent to at least 10 other kids. Presently in Austria, most chain messages are spread by kids via WhatsApp.

In particular, three types of gruesome chain letters can be found:

  1. "I am a monster and I will come to you at midnight" - several varieties are being spread: the girl with no limbs, the dead girl, the girl with terrible cuts on her face, and so on. All of these chain messages are cross-media ‘funded' with videos on YouTube or websites that ‘prove' the ‘real existence' of the subject matter. Slender Man can also be found in this category.
  2. "Your mother will die… in 5 years" - this form of chain message is quite frightening for kids and puts a lot of pressure on them. The addition of ‘in 5 years' leads to severe problems, especially if the parent then really becomes ill.
  3. "You will die" - these messages are usually not taken too seriously, since most kids aged 8-11 cannot really imagine that they could die.

Chain messages are also used to spread fraudulent messages or malware. In the case of special events (for example, killer clowns before Halloween 2016), ‘warnings' are spread via chain messages, so causing extra fear among kids.

Saferinternet.at, the Austrian Safer Internet Centre (SIC), has reacted to this trend by including it in its training programmes for this age group. Discussions include who might be producing such content and what their motivation might be, and rules for classes are being established (which messages can be spread, which should not be passed on, and so on).

Some special classroom activities have also been developed, for example in maths classes:

"Anna receives a chain message via WhatsApp. This message is quite frightening, so Anna passes the message on to Lara, Tom, Jonas, Valentin and Adrian. They are also frightened, so they pass it on to another five people each. Anna's teacher realises that this chain letter is being spread in class. She tells the class not to pass it on any further and to delete the message from their phones. How many children, at least, received the message?"

The chain message phone

During a training session, it became obvious that it is not enough to just reflect on chain messages, but also to offer the possibility for kids to calm themselves further. While it became apparent that kids are quite aware that chain messages are rubbish and lies, this knowledge might not help if they cannot sleep during night. They need their parents to take their concerns seriously and help them to fight the fear immediately. If that's not possible, it's likely they will pass the message on. That's the reason why Saferinternet.at implemented the ‘chain message phone' under the slogan "Send us your chain message, we count for more than 20 people". Hopefully this will help kids to sleep better in the future!

Further information is available on the Saferinternet.at website as follows:

Find out more about the work of the Austrian Safer Internet Centre, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services.

Photo credits: Saferinternet.at


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