Digital ghost stories; impact, risks and reasons

  • Awareness
  • 03/05/2019
  • UK Safer Internet Centre

In February 2019, the "Momo Suicide Challenge" caused worry in homes and schools across the United Kingdom. Fuelled by sensationalist headlines and misinformation on social media, the hoax quickly escalated into a moral panic with parents fearing for the safety of their children.

Every so often, in various forms, society experiences episodes of self-fuelled collective worry. These phenomena are not new, with well-known occurrences observed both before and after the advent of the internet. Each episode begins with individuals sharing concern about a perceived threat, substantiated or otherwise, which then grows to create a moral panic amongst people. This has the effect of exacerbating the initial harm or creating harm where none existed to begin with.

It is only natural for people to want to spread awareness of a perceived threat; however, in the digital world in which we all live, it is easier than ever for panic to be spread quickly amongst a populace, with inevitable media attention and unscrupulous purveyors of "advice" adding fuel to the fire.

In an analysis of Momo, Andy Phippen, Professor of Social Responsibility in IT at the University of Plymouth and Emma Bond, Professor of Socio-Technical Research at the University of Suffolk, look at the impact and risks of digital ghost stories and the reasons behind the phenomena; download the report and read the analysis here.

Find out more information about the work of the UK Safer Internet Centre (SIC) generally, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.

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