British Columbia

'Momo Challenge' social media hoax leads school district to send parents tips on online safety

Kids’ safety is always a concern for parents, especially when it comes to their interactions on social media. A viral hoax, known as the Momo Challenge, has been making headlines but social media experts say the entire thing is a viral hoax.

Social media videos purport to tell children to perform dangerous tasks but the entire thing is a viral hoax

Photos of this sculpture circulate on social media networks. (Twitter )

Kids' safety is always a concern for parents, especially when it comes to their interactions on social media.

Recently, a viral hoax known as the Momo Challenge has been making headlines and upsetting parents.

News of the challenge has been making the rounds, purporting to be an online phenomenon where people, mainly children, are sent disturbing images on social media and are then told to do things — often violent and dangerous — and if they don't comply, a woman, a sculpture with a stretched out face and bulging eyes will hurt them or their loved ones.

"It does have very malicious intentions," said executive director of Safe Online Education Associates Merlyn Horton of the hoax.

"It can be very alarming, especially for younger children that don't have that ability to differentiate between what is real and what's possible online and what's not," she said.

Horton said though these messages are untrue, they're not to be taken lightly.

"Anything that has a potential to traumatize and frighten our children while they're supposedly in a safe space online has potential to cause harm," she told Radio West host Sarah Penton.

A YouTube spokesperson said the company has seen no evidence of Momo suicide dares spliced into content for children, and these kinds of viral "challenges" are against the company's terms of service.

"We've seen no recent evidence of videos promoting the Momo Challenge on YouTube. Videos encouraging harmful and dangerous challenges are against our policies," a company spokesperson wrote on Twitter.

School district addresses safety

The Kamloops and area school district sent an email to parents on Wednesday outlining tips and resources for child safety on social media and in other web-based capacities after staff and administrators received several messages from parents asking what the Momo Challenge is.

"We want to let [parents]  know that school district officials understand what's happening right now and can offer further support at school if these concerns are brought forward," said Trish Smiley, director of learning services for School District 73.

The letter from the school district offered suggestions on how to ensure children are safe online, including how to talk to kids about the Internet and social media.  

"We wanted parents to discuss where the computer is kept at home and how they have access to personal devices, most especially when using things like YouTube," Smiley said.

Other tips from the district include:

  • Get to know what your child does online and teach them to be safe — they need to know how to deal with inappropriate material and how to protect themselves from predators.
  • Keep the computer in a common area, have them use personal devices in your company.
  • Warn your child not to give personal information to a stranger online.
  • Contact local law enforcement if you believe your child is being blackmailed or extorted online.
  • Tell your child to ignore messages from people they don't recognize and not to visit someone in person that they meet online or via text.

Horton agrees that the best way to handle this trend is to talk to kids about their presence online.

"Parents need to reassure kids that they are a resource and a safe place for kids to talk about their online concerns, and overall, parents need to start putting some brakes on on how much technology and how much unsupervised access children are getting to their devices."

With files from Radio West

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