Fake news warning: The “48-hour challenge” is a hoax

Feb 21, 2019, 1:19 PM | Updated: 1:22 pm
48-Hour Challenge...
A hoax warning people of the "48-hour challenge" has gone viral online - but Snopes.com says there's not a single incidence of anyone actually doing it. (photos: Twitter / Facebook)
(photos: Twitter / Facebook)

It’s called the 48-hour challenge. It’s the new social media craze that dares kids to go missing for days at a time, news outlets around the country have been reporting, all on the promise that they’ll score “points” if their name shows up as a missing person in the news.

It’s as chilling as a Stephen King novel – and every bit as true, which is to say, it’s not.

But don’t lock your kids up inside the house just yet. According to the website Snopes, the whole story is a hoax and not even a new one. It’s one that they have been debunking for years.

How the 48-hour challenge began

The latest burst of news about the 48-hour challenge appears to have gotten started when a 13-year-old girl skipped a day of school.

Diana Clawson of Rock Hill, South Carolina, drove her family into a panic when, on Jan. 23rd, she didn’t show up for her classes. Her parents, terrified that their daughter was in danger, issued a missing child report, starting a county-wide search for the little girl who – they would soon find out – was just hiding underneath her bed.

In the chaos, someone in the search party mentioned that they’d heard about a “48-hour challenge” that dares kids to see if they can hide for long enough to get in the news. It was just an off-hand comment, but the media picked up on the idea – and from there, it went wild.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police issued a warning about it the very next day, telling the local news station WCNC NBC to warn parents across the state about the challenge.

Other police departments soon followed their lead, issuing warnings on news social media outlets cautioning parents that some shadowy force online was trying to trick their kids into going into hiding.

But there was no “48-hour challenge.” Whatever Diana’s motivation for hiding under her bed might have been has been kept out of the press, but her family has made it clear that it had absolutely nothing to do with any kind of online challenge.

It was just a thought somebody threw out on a whim – and, mixed with a little too much paranoia and not quite enough caution, it spread across the nation.

The original 72-hour-challenge

The 72-Hour Challenge Hoax

The 2015 headline that started the hoax. (Image: The Daily Mail)

This isn’t the first time stories of a “48-hour-challenge” have shown up online. According to Snopes.com, the first such stories started spreading online in April of 2015, when the British newspaper “The Daily Mail” warned parents about a “72-hour challenge.”

Again, the story started with a 13-year-old girl, this one in France. When this girl was found after going missing for three days, she told police that she’d been playing the “Game of 72”: an internet craze that she claimed challenged teens to run away from home for 72-hours.

Emma, however, was almost certainly making that up. Before she said it, not a single mention of the “Game of 72” could be found online. Her story, French prosecutors said, just seemed to be “an excuse.”

“We think that Emma joined up with someone when she ran away,” prosecutor Francois Perain told the press. “Everything points to the fact that the game (which may be imaginary) is the explanation that Emma gave … to protect the person she met.”

Perain’s explanation didn’t keep parents from panicking, filling social media pages with warnings about a viral craze that could put their kids’ lives in jeopardy. Before the long, the story even spread around the world, with police departments in Canada and the U.S. issuing warnings about the so-called “Game of 72.”

But nobody was actually playing the “Game of 72.” There is yet to be a single confirmed case of a child completing the alleged online challenge, even though stories about it seem to burst back into the media about once every other year.

A 2017 news report on the hoax, this time dubbed the “48-hour challenge.” (KTTV-FOX 11)The person in Diana Clawson’s search-and-rescue party who mentioned it appears to have heard stories about the challenge and not realized it was just a hoax.

And so an offhand comment and a little girl hiding under her bed accidentally drove an entire country into a panic.

More to the story

When KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic talked about this story on the air, they asked themselves why we are so susceptible to hoaxes like this one.

If you missed the show live on the air, you can still catch everything they had to say on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast:

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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Fake news warning: The “48-hour challenge” is a hoax