This week it was reported that a disturbing new social media phenomenon had been introduced online. It was claimed that the ‘game’ encouraged children to self-harm and in some cases, to commit suicide. It was said that it was not something that children could only find if they deliberately searched for it, but that there had been instances of it appearing in children’s videos, including cartoons like Peppa Pig, on sites such as YouTube.
The challenge was symbolised by a scary looking face and was named the Momo challenge. Essentially, through a contact number on Whats App, it was said to coax the observer into doing terrible activities (such as overdosing on tablets, hurting someone else or cutting themselves), often threatening them with the death of friends if they failed to comply. One report stated that it was believed that the game had been introduced by people who were capable of ‘harvesting’ information from the players. So it had the potential to hack into a child’s Facebook page, for example, look up the child’s friends and name them as part of the threat.
As you can imagine, news of the above sent parents and schools into panic. The recognition that a child could be exposed to something so sinister and potentially fatal was shocking. Especially as it was not something children had to go looking for but, through internet sites such as You Tube, the threat came to them. Thankfully, various charities and news sites are now claiming that the above is a hoax and was ‘glorified’ by media coverage.
However, what has left us shaken is the idea that such an ominous social media threat could have existed. A scheme that preyed on:
- The vulnerable (such as young children or those that didn’t have an adult they could talk to when they felt scared)
- The unsupervised (children given gadgets and then left to their own devices)
- The uneducated (children who had not been taught what to do if they were threatened online).
While it is claimed that the above is a hoax, we are increasingly aware that predators with ill intentions are online. Videos for children can be dubbed with inappropriate language. A cartoon clip that begins innocently (while parents are initially watching, will some become sexually explicit and violent once it is believed that a parent has moved away from the screen and is distracted).
It is our advice that you do not allow children to access the internet without appropriate supervision and parental controls in place. However, the best advice we can give is that you allow children to realise that if they make a mistake online or if something frightens them, they are able to talk to you. If a child fears punishment as a result of their online interactions, this will mean they feel unable to approach you. In turn, this may add to stress if they are being threatened or blackmailed.
We are living in unnerving times. It is imperative that we work hard to monitor the online activity of our children. The internet has educational benefits but we would be unwise to think it is a harmless place for our children to spend their time. By working together we hope that we can ensure children are less vulnerable, well supervised and better educated when it comes to online interactions.
Deputy Head Prep (Pastoral), Head of English