A disturbing social media challenge that encourages participants to do dangerous things has made a comeback.
The Momo Challenge involves participants receiving social media invitations on platforms like WhatsApp and Snapchat to message an account called Momo. The account is linked to an image of a doll with long black hair, large eyes and a scary-looking smile.
The account may send disturbing images and instructions for different tasks that need to be complete along with threats about what will happen if the tasks are not carried out.
Darren Laur, an internet and social media safety advocate with the West Shore-based company The White Hatter, said there were many reports that children were harming themselves and even dying as a result of the challenge. Laur said that isn’t the case.
“It’s a hoax that is propagating and now, as a result of that, too many parents are believing it’s killing kids around the world when in fact that isn’t happening,” Laur said.
However, Laur said the images and messages associated with the challenge that can pop up in videos online and on social media can be frightening for children.
“What isn’t a hoax is how graphic it is,” Laur said. “If a young person sees it, it can be very, very scary.”
Laur said educating parents about the Momo Challenge and using it as a teachable moment is important for kids. He said that while it is recommended that children under Grade 4 should not be online unsupervised, the reality is that doesn’t always happen.
“Too many parents are letting their younger kids go online totally unsupervised which means when they come across something like this it could be quite emotionally and psychologically damaging or concerning,” Laur said.
Laur presents about online safety to many youths and parents and said when he is talking to older kids in middle school and high school, they know what the challenge is but laugh it off because they know it isn’t real. He said the concern is younger kids seeing the Momo Challenge posts and believing them.
Superintendent Scott Stinson of SD62 said the District is aware of the challenge.
“We’re working with the Ministry of Education and Safer Schools Together to determine messaging to parents around this,” Stinson said in an e-mailed statement. “We really encourage parents to monitor online content with their children so that they can discuss things that their children might see and or help to avoid inappropriate content.”
Laur said a problem is that some kids might see the challenge and believe it to be true. He said it is important for parents to get ahead of the game and talk to their kids about things like online safety.
“Do it in a teachable moment, don’t try to scare them,” Laur said. “Let’s enlighten and not frighten.”
Younger children should be supervised when online, using devices in areas where they can be monitored and not in places like their bedrooms, Laur suggested.
“It comes down to education but in order to do that parents need to know the information,” Laur said. “The problem with the Momo Challenge is its being spun into this moral panic by the parents.”
-With files from Olivia Bowden, The Canadian Press