The Paracetamol Challenge has spread across the internet like wildfire. Parents are clicking on links that talk about how their teenage sons and daughters are challenging their friends and being challenged to consume large, potentially lethal doses of painkillers. It’s more than just bullying. It’s a game to prove how strong you are compared to others.

Many households have frantically locked up their painkillers or just disposed of them. The only problem is that like many viral internet news trends, the Paracetamol Challenge doesn’t exist.

As Dateline has been proving for decades now, parents can’t resist epidemics. They love predators and drug epidemics. This far from the only fictional drug crisis a parent has ever lost their mind over. The use of “butt-hash”, for example, was greatly exaggerated – parents worried, kids thought it was funny, and practically no one ever actually used it.

The problem with fake news online today is that people are fast to believe it. There is a societal need to believe the worst case scenario. Parents today are spending less time with their teens. They’re working terrible jobs where they are barely earning enough to get by. Teens are great at getting the attention of their parents when they feel like they’re being left behind. That’s what the Paracetamol Challenge is all about: attention.

Keeping painkillers and other drugs within easy reach of teens isn’t a great idea. Let’s be clear about that as well. Thinking that teens are daring themselves to consume painkillers in a suicide dare? Maybe it’s time to think again.

Photograph via Joe Giddens/PA