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Parents, Momo Challenge Is an Online Danger That Cannot Be Taken Lightly
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To read this story in Tagalog, click here.
  • Update: As of 4:00 a.m., February 28, 2019 (Manila time), Google has released a statement on the issue of the "Momo challenge" on behalf of its subsidiary YouTube as follows:

    Many of you have shared your concerns with us over the past few days about the Momo Challenge--we’ve been paying close attention to these reports. After much review, we’ve seen no recent evidence of videos promoting the Momo Challenge on YouTube. Videos encouraging harmful and dangerous challenges are clearly against our policies, the Momo challenge included. Despite press reports of this challenge surfacing, we haven’t had any recent links flagged or shared with us from YouTube that violate our Community Guidelines.

    It’s important to note that we do allow creators to discuss, report, or educate people on the Momo challenge/character on YouTube. We’ve seen screenshots of videos and/or thumbnails with this character in them. To clarify, it is not against our policies to include the image of the Momo character on YouTube; that being said, this image is not allowed on the YouTube Kids app and we’re putting safeguards in place to exclude it from content on YouTube Kids.

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    Here's more info on our policy prohibiting harmful and dangerous challenges.

    If you see someone promoting any challenge with an inherent risk or harm, please flag it to us immediately.

    YouTube has also tweeted a condensed version of this statement.

    Read here how you can report disturbing videos on YouTube. 

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    If you need one reason to be strict with your child's screen time, then you should know the proliferation of disturbing and violent content on YouTube Kids and video games has not abated. In fact, what your child may end up watching can be harmful to them.

    YouTube Kids, developed by Youtube and released in 2015, was created "to make it safer and simpler for kids to explore the world through online video – from their favorite shows and music to learning how to build a model volcano (or make slime ;-), and everything in between. There’s also a whole suite of parental controls, so you can tailor the experience to your family’s needs," it says on its homepage.

    However, since 2015, reports have surfaced that inappropriate videos, such as Paw Patrol dogs committing suicide or videos instructing kids to harm themselves, were being stealthily spliced midway into what parents thought were "safe" videos. 

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    In one instance, a concerned mom on Facebook says she was watching an episode of Peppa Pig with her daughter when the plot took on a twisted turn.   

    "Please be aware of what your kids are watching. [These videos] get past the filters because of the characters and they're marked for kids and will autoplay if no one is paying attention. These are fake videos using kids chracters and are not real episodes. They show up on both YouTube Kids and regular YouTube due to the characters and the content is unmonitored," she captioned screenshots of the show.

    She said apps and shows that feature kids' favorite cartoon characters are also being used "to get kids to do extremely harmful things."

    A YouTube episode about the Winx Club, a popular animated series about fairies, allegedly gives "a step-by-step tutorial of how to become a fire fairy...the little girl ended up severely burned," says the mom.

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    In another instance, a mom from Florida was shocked to discover a video clip of a man giving advice on self-harm. Like in the example above, the video that illustrates how to self-harm was sneaked halfway into a cartoon clip on YouTube Kids.

    But it's not only YouTube that is being used as a medium to distribute these dangerous videos. Even Roblox and Fortnite, supposedly harmless online games, are now part of the list.

    One mom from Utah gave a stern warning to fellow parents on social media when her 7-year-old daughter had a full-blown anxiety attack after gamers told her to harm herself — and shown how. The mom says she only realized what was happening when she saw a disturbing doodle her daughter made in school. 

    The latest iteration of these inappropriate and dangerous videos is referred to as the "Momo Challenge," which is being blamed for the death of a 12-year-old girl in Buenos Aires and the suicide of a 13-year-old boy from Belgium. In the Philippines, it has also been linked to the death of an 11-year old boy.

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    The Momo Challenge is a virtual game played on the messaging app WhatsApp, Facebook, and YouTube. The initial point of contact happens through WhatsApp where the child is given instructions (the "challenge") that result to self-harm. "Momo," the character with bug-like eyes, then warns the kids that if they fail to do the challenge, she will put a curse on them. It is similar to the Blue Whale challenge that made the rounds online in 2015.

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    Lyn Dixon, of Edinburgh, Scotland, and a mom to an 8-year-old boy, says her son "showed me an image of the face on my phone and said that she had told him to go into the kitchen drawer and take out a knife and put it into his neck."

    What parents can do

    Psychologist and counselor Michele Alignay, Ph.D., a family life specialist, gives three tips to prevent such instances from happening in the future.

    1. Train kids to be more discerning. Kids should be made to understand what is allowed and what is not.

    2. Have a good relationship with your kids so that they will not feel threatened to communicate with you. When that is present, it is the kids themselves who will alert you of inappropriate clips they saw. 

    3. Go back to regular CDs and DVDs. If an adult cannot always stay with the young ones to watch, use a medium that you can control.

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    Don't be afraid to reach out if you or your child is feeling anxious, helpless, or despondent. If you need someone to talk to: 
    1. Crisis Line +633 893-7603 / +63 917 800-1123 / + 63 922 893-8944 
    2. Manila Lifeline Center at +632 896-9191 or +63 917 854-9191
    3. Department of Health's 24-hour suicide prevention hotline Hopeline +632 804-4637 / +63 917 558-4673 and 2919 for Globe and TM subscribers 
    4. You can also join SOS Philippines on Facebook, a support group founded for survivors of suicide loss and Filipinos undergoing mental health ailments like depression and bipolar disorder.

    This story was updated on February 28, 2019, 9:45 a.m. to include Google's statement.

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