Dangerous or damaging online challenges are never funny

Recently, eSafety has seen an increase in complaints about 'Guess who?' videos posted by school students who don’t always consider the negative impact on their peers on the receiving end of the 'joke'.

To be clear, many of the ‘Guess who?’ videos circulating are benign and may be fun. It is only some of these posts that contain derogatory descriptors, sensitive personal information or rumours about the person – some of which seriously humiliate or objectify them and may be considered cyberbullying.

In an increasingly competitive online environment, social media challenges can spread quickly to a large and impressionable audience. Young people are always anxious to take part in the latest fad or tell others about it while it’s still trending.

But, sadly, some challenges can be hurtful and abusive, seeking to ridicule, humiliate and harass, and causing damage to the target’s self-esteem and confidence. Others are extremely risky and can endanger the physical safety of children trying to emulate them for followers and likes.  

Just like they did in the analogue playgrounds of previous generations, these challenges will come and go. They will proliferate on whichever platform young people are spending their time online (TikTok being the most popular at the moment).

In this fast-moving environment, one thing remains constant: the need for parents to guide and support their children and seek help from experts when required.

What can parents do?

Starting these conversations may require a ‘tread lightly’ approach – particularly if the challenge involves risky or harmful behaviour. Raising these types of challenges might actually tempt your child to try it out, especially once they learn it’s popular online. 

eSafety encourages a careful approach, underpinned by general conversations about online safety issues.

When the challenge involves other people – like a prank or ‘Guess who?’ video – remind them that respect and empathy for others is far more important than getting laughs, likes or followers.

When a challenge is circulating online

  • Keep a close eye on your child, particularly if they are vulnerable, to ensure they are not targeted.  
  • Do not introduce the idea or the name of a specific challenge or risk-taking behaviour if young people are not already aware of it.
  • If young people are aware of a dangerous or harmful challenge, talk about how bad the injuries or other consequences could be. Depending on the type of challenge, it could be physically dangerous, or it could harm another person’s mental health. Ask them how they would feel if they were targeted and it was shared online..
  • Do not show them any videos of a dangerous challenge, even to warn them about how risky it is. Advise them not to view or share videos of the challenge themselves.
  • Encourage them to report any videos of the challenge to the apps or services where they were posted – The Safety Guide has a list of links they can use.
  • Make sure your child knows how to report cyberbullying material to the platforms they use and that they do so when they see it. They also need to know how to block other users and manage the privacy and security of their accounts.

Arming young people with early guidance

  • Focus on developing young people's critical reasoning skills, encouraging them to question what they see online even if their friends don’t.
  • Let them know that they should always be careful of other people’s safety and respectful of their feelings, particularly if they see something dangerous or hurtful online.
  • Ask questions about the games and apps they are using and what they are watching online.
  • Ask open-ended questions in a non-judgemental way about risk-taking behaviour and use it as an opportunity to talk about the issues – parents might like to have the conversation shoulder-to-shoulder instead of face-to-face to make it less awkward, while driving in the car or doing something else together.

If your child is being cyberbullied as part of a viral challenge

  • Review our cyberbullying advice.
  • Report the cyberbullying material to the online platform used to send, post, or share the harmful content.
  • If the platform does not help you and the cyberbullying is serious enough, we can require them to remove the material. Report to us at esafety.gov.au/report

You can find more advice and tips for helping young people at the parents and educators pages of our online safety hub. We also have useful information for young people, co-created by young people.