Digital Ghost Stories; Impact, Risks and Reasons

Andy Phippen, Professor of Social Responsibility in IT, University of Plymouth
Emma Bond, Professor of Socio-Technical Research, University of Suffolk

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Exec Summary

The Momo suicide challenge, represented by a nasty looking image, instantly became a media storm in late February 2019 by individuals and organisations keen to share warnings. As with many previous digital ghost stories, it was quickly established that there was no evidence of children coming to harm and whilst it is unpleasant content, the Momo Challenge was branded a hoax. It had all the hallmarks of a viral chain mail.

As we witnessed inprevious, similar, incidents, many statutory agencies (especially schools) felt compelled to share these warnings, forgetting fundamental advice around checking sources, exploring evidence and reflecting upon what is seemingly being presented. Warnings and content about digital ghost stories merely goes to raise curiosity and drive traffic to the very content that is of concern. It is also important to consider the intent behind many of the warnings; to actually safeguard children or for personal or organisational recognition.

The Internet has some dark corners with unpleasant and risky content, do we really need to drive children, especially those already vulnerable to this type of content? In analysing historical events, here we will discover and quantify the extent ofcuriosity and its impact.