If you are like me, you have seen a fair number of posts on your social media accounts about the newest urban YouTube legend, Momo.
Maybe you have no idea what I am talking about, and if that’s the case, I congratulate you that your feed has been free of the creepy image that has been floating around mine for the last few weeks. Either way, the myth around Momo is that there are hackers who are inserting a creepy image into children’s YouTube videos and providing them with suggestions to hurt themselves or their family or even commit suicide. However, when you complete a quick Google search, the most reliable report states this is a hoax and that not only have no children have been hurt from the Momo challenge but also that the Momo video hijacking has not even occurred.
So, is this Momo character really popping up in the middle of your kid’s Peppa Pig video?
The short answer: most likely not, but who’s to know? Over three hundred hours of videos are uploaded to YouTube every minute and to guarantee that there isn’t a clip of Momo hiding out somewhere within one of these videos seems highly unlikely to me.
However, even without Momo hidden inside children’s YouTube videos, there are plenty of YouTube videos entirely inappropriate for children only a few clicks away.
YouTube, like most social media platforms, works on an algorithm. Searchable keywords are a part of any algorithm, and behind Google, YouTube is the second most searched website on the Internet.
For example, if your child is anything like my youngest she is are obsessed with PJ Mask. To appease your child, you type into the YouTube search bar “PJ Mask videos.” With this search, a list of PJ Mask videos shows up on your YouTube homepage. Once you click on a video, the video will play and once it is done, another will start. The next video to play will still be about PJ Mask, however, most likely it will be from a different creator. Yes, the content of PJ Mask will stay the same, however, it might change to children pretending to play with PJ Mask toys instead of the cartoon show.
What predators will do is use the keyword “PJ Mask” (or any other kid-focused character) and then create video content where these toy characters or even cartoons do highly inappropriate things. It tricks the YouTube algorithm into thinking it is showing family-friendly content.
The second way children are often exposed to inappropriate YouTube content is via the upnext sidebar that pops up on the side of the video being shown. This sidebar shows your child more PJ Mask videos. When you start a video that is appropriate for your child, after you walk away, your child might click on a video from the sidebar and YouTube then starts that video. These sidebar videos will show some videos with the character PJ Mask in them, however, it will also show other videos that you may like, possibly related or unrelated to the original searched content altogether. Some videos on the sidebar will feature other popular kids characters such as Daniel Tiger or Peppa Pig. Once again, predators will create inappropriate video content around these children’s characters to trick the YouTube algorithm into showing inappropriate videos to children.
Regardless of Momo, these types of unsafe, inappropriate videos are not a hoax and are easily located on both YouTube and YouTube Kids.
I have two children who love YouTube. My oldest child is on the autism spectrum and we use play toy videos from YouTube channels to help him learn how to pretend play. My youngest child is a Blippi, Story Bots, and GoNoodle fanatic. These channels and countless others have amazing educational content and provide supplemental education for my children. They also help me, as I use these YouTube videos to keep my children entertained while I cook dinner or fold a load of laundry. Lastly, this momma is as cheap as they come therefore, I won’t pay for content I can get on the internet for free.
YouTube, even with the threat of Momo or other inappropriate content possibly being shown, for now, will be staying in our household. Therefore, I created a safeguard to prevent my kids from having access to the sidebar or the YouTube Homepage to help prevent my children from being exposed to inappropriate content.
This is how I did it:
- If you don’t have one already, create your own YouTube account.
- Once you are logged in, you can create a playlist. Add videos that you have previewed and feel comfortable having your children watch.
- Once you create your playlist, hit the play button. Once the video is playing, use your IOS device and place your device into guided access mode, or if you have an Android device, you can pin the YouTube application or use a third party application.
Using your playlist and preventing access to the sidebar will allow only videos that you placed on the playlist to be shown to your child.
While I now have peace of mind using this safety measure with my kids, it is always important to talk to your children about internet safety and about what they learn about Momo or any other internet hoax from school or other sources. Here are some suggestions that I have found helpful when talking about my young children about internet safety.
Neither of my children have an understanding of the Momo hoax. Therefore, I am not going to explain to them or show them a picture of Momo or any other inappropriate content. Instead, I talk to them both about tricky people. I explain that a tricky person is someone that you know in real life or see on the internet that makes you feel uncomfortable. I explain to my children that they have the power of a gut feeling. A gut feeling is something that happens inside your tummy that makes you feel uncomfortable or tells you that things aren’t right. I tell both of my children if they are watching something in real life or on a screen that makes them feel uncomfortable for whatever reason, it is very important that they tell me, so I can help them. I repeat this at least once a week for both of my children. I want them to know that I take their feelings seriously and support them.
If you have a child who has heard of Momo or is concerned about other hoaxes of this nature, you need to talk directly to them. Explain to them what a hoax is. A hoax is when someone tries to trick you by telling you something that isn’t real.
You can give examples of hoaxes that are silly, such as the April fools joke you played, or show an episode of Mythbusters. Then, explain that hoaxes only work if one person doesn’t know that it is a hoax, or untrue. Next, explain that because they have the knowledge or power of knowing that Momo isn’t real, that they can’t be tricked by Momo or other hoaxes. Give your child the power of knowing what a hoax is. Give your child the power to trust their gut about tricky people. As always, continue the conversation about tricky people and the importance of only going to places on the internet (and in real life) that are just right for children.
Additional safety steps that can be included are:
- Always keep any internet devices in shared areas of your home.
- Explain to your children to keep their private information private. This includes not sharing passwords, phone numbers, personal information, or photographs.
- Use parental settings on all devices.
- Buy a parental control router like Disney’s Circle which will allow you to see where your child is going on the Internet and where you can set time limits for devices on the WiFi network.
Let’s face it, this Momo hoax is just another parenting challenge we need to address. However, the most important takeaway for me is that we continue to have open and honest communication with our children regarding tricky people, peer pressure, and internet safety.
I would love to know, what’s your biggest take away from this newest internet scare?