You’ve probably seen headlines, Facebook shares, or tweets about the newest digital threat facing the entire world – the Momo Challenge.
The basic gist of the challenge is: contact with “Momo” is triggered by sending a text or Whatsapp message to a special phone number found online, and the “player” will be given challenges that range from the mundane to self-harm. Distressing images and threats are sent if the player doesn’t complete the challenge. Seems scary, right?
We’re all probably familiar with enough chain letters to disbelieve the “send this to 10 people or some ghost or monster will come and get you while you sleep” threat. The Momo Challenge is the modern-day version of this. Like most trends or challenges, social media, especially YouTube, causes them to spread like digital wildfire. It’s hard to scroll through any newsfeed and not see the disturbing bird-like woman with bulging eyes and that weird smile thing along with headlines about Momo convincing kids to harm themselves. The problem here is, the Momo Challenge doesn’t seem to actually be as big a threat as it’s being made to be.
According to an article published by Snopes, there is very little evidence of people actually interacting with Momo. There are few screenshots of interactions in a day and age where they should be prevalent if it’s truly an epidemic. Coverage of the challenge has also likely been convoluted with stories similar to this one about people splicing disturbing images and video clips into kids’ YouTube shows.
This viral craze brings up a whole heap of other topics, but most importantly it brings up an opportunity to discuss what it means to be a good digital citizen. This means sharing stories responsibly, being on the lookout for cyberbullies, and being careful online. By its nature, YouTube is almost impossible to police. Anyone can upload and anyone can comment. Even if they become flagged by the site and blocked, it just takes an email address to set up a new profile. And just because the Momo Challenge may have been exaggerated, it doesn’t mean people with ill intentions towards our children won’t use its disturbing images and topics as inspiration to create equally disturbing content.
Well meaning people and news outlets have been sharing stories and reporting on this, and rightfully so. Most people want to protect their children. But the problem is that the Momo Challenge isn’t actually a viral trend. It’s not exactly fake news either though because there are probably cases of kids being traumatized by it, which will inevitably go up as the story gets more and more viral traction. Kids may be familiar with the terrifying visage of Momo, but it’s most likely not because they’ve actually interacted with it.
The important lesson here is to share stories responsibly, have open, honest discussions with your students and children about being safe online, and do your best to be present and aware. Remember to share responsibly. If you don’t, you’ll be cursed with extra-loud and violent sneezes for the next 3 months.
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