The Momo Challenge is the latest viral challenge that targets children in the name of self-harm. Following in the horrifying footsteps of previous online attacks on young and impressionable viewers, like Slenderman and the Tide Pod Challenge, the Momo Challenge is designed like a chain letter, with instructions popping up in children’s online videos and games, directing viewers to contact a phone number on Snapchat or WhatsApp where they will receive messages that encourage them to harm or even kill themselves. The messages, which often ask for personal data and information, contain steps on how to perform self-harm, while also making threatening claims against the child’s family if they do not follow through on the instructions.
But before you start throwing out all the devices in your house, the good news: the Momo Challenge appears to be somewhat of a viral ghost story, with no evidence of children causing harm to themselves as a direct result of the videos. Instead, the constant stream of headlines about the challenge, which often feature the terrifying image of a stretched head on top of a kind of bird, appear to be having more of a negative effect on children than the actual challenge. Still awful, though.
According to Forbes writer Andy Robertson, most children are finding out about the Momo Challenge from YouTubers who are posting videos of themselves attempting to contact Momo. This is the latest in horrible news from YouTube, who last week saw ads pulled by major companies like Disney and Epic Games (Fortnite) over concerns that pedophilia rings were operating in the comments section of videos.
Even if children do receive a contact phone number, Robertson notes that it is difficult to actually get a response from Momo. That being said, copycat Momos are popping up at an alarming rate, with the popular game Minecraft including instances of Momo avatars appearing. The issue over children in the UK either seeking out Momo or being contacted by copycats has become so prevalent that police there have issued warnings to parents and are investigating the viral trend.
Continuing with our ‘Awful News of the Day’, CTV reports that a Dr. Free N. Hess, a mother in Florida, has succeeded in having two videos pulled from YouTube. Yay! The videos, which were cartoons geared towards children, included a clip of an adult instructing children on how to slit their wrists. YouTube has attempted to combat the issue of young viewers seeing inappropriate material by launching YouTube kids, but as Hess notes, she has still been able to find videos with violence, guns, inappropriate language, murder, and self-harm on the app. Yay retracted.
As we wade through all the stories on the Momo challenge and the troubling trend of YouTube’s inability to keep kids’ content safe, the biggest takeaway should be that in 2019, ‘The Talk’ between parents and kids should include how to stay safe online. And there’s no such thing as too early. Canada Safety Council has outlined the various scenarios that parents and guardians should discuss with children in order to keep them and their personal information safe online.
This also feels like a good time to point out that Crave has a ton of age-appropriate shows and movies for kids, and it’s all Momo-free.