130 suicides worldwide, 19 stabs to a belly, severe burns, poisoning – these are outcomes of present-day online games freely circulating throughout the web.
It looks like the Internet declared the war to families since it hosts uncontrollably challenges that encourage children to hurt or kill themselves. Let’s find out what their exact mission is, who their targets are, and why the Z-Generation is jeopardized more than their predecessors.
It is a dangerous social media phenomenon popular among teens and tweens. It took its symbol Momo from the artwork of the Japanese special effects company Link Factory. A horrifying creature, half-human, half-bird, with a distorted face, bulgy eyes, and a torn mouth is subject to debates of parents, family therapists, and cybersecurity experts.
Initially “conceived” in a Facebook group, where participants were dared to contact an unknown number, it migrated to WhatsApp. Its mission is quite murky. Multiple testimonials say that after contacting a potential victim via WhatsApp, Momo assigns tasks and, in case of disobedience, sends horrible pictures, threatens to leak their personal data or, worse, threatens death. Then, somebody behind it asks to share photos and videos demonstrating how participants complete assigned tasks.
At first, tasks are inconspicuous like waking up too early in the morning. They snowball hauling in the final one, which is committing suicide. The main Momo’s channels are Facebook, YouTube, and WhatsApp.
While some consider it to be a pure bot playing tricks with vulnerable kids, others think it’s a hoax designed to fish for sensitive data. However, there was already a suicide in Argentina which the local police associate with the challenge.
In Buenos Aires, a 12-year-old girl has reportedly committed suicide after chatting with Momo. When the police hacked her phone, they found out she was communicating with an 18-year-old who, they believe, pushed her into killing herself. Also, the police are convinced that the teen’s intention was to post the video of her committing suicide on social media within the challenge.
YouTube ReignBot (designed to create “videos exploring creepy internet weirdness”) tried it out and found out that Momo was not associated with one WhatsApp number. It is supposedly attached to three phone numbers from Mexico, Colombia, and Japan. However, when trying to reach out to somebody by the numbers, nobody responses.
True or not, but YouTube bloggers set off to try it out and got in touch with Momo on WhatsApp. The results were ambiguous: a teen blogger and prankster affirms it’s a pure bot, which googles you and operates with this information while communicating. This is how it creates the effect of the all-knowing and all-seeing. That way, it sends kids’ photos to them and some other information Memo managed to fish during the communication. It lures a child into making a call or accepting it, and, by using API, gets another information. So, kids, without knowing the whole process, think they are trapped and should obey anyway.
Some bloggers really got scared after Memo having told what kind of closet was behind them on the video and what floor they lived on. They even accepted phone calls which after picking up was making unbearable noises.
Momo has been spotted in Argentina, Mexico, USA, France, and Germany, according to the BBC. Worldwide, the news platforms warn parents of a cruel online challenge which may be inspiring children to kill themselves.
Usually, in order not to offend the community of users, IOT reps try to comment on massive phenomena that touched their flagship products. However, at present, there are no relevant comments from WhatsApp.
The National Police of Spain have alerted that citizens should avoid insane challenges like this one circulating via WhatsApp.
Should parents ring alarm bells? Definitely! The challenge has the potential to level up to the size of the Blue Whale Game which officially took a life of 130 children throughout the globe.
The link to Twitter: Momochallenge
Back in 2016, the world has seen an extremely dangerous online game whose mission was clearly outlined by its creator Philipp Budeikin: “to cleanse the society from biowaste”. Such are kids who died completing the final task of the game. When facing trial, Budeikin said they had been happy to die.
Its symbol is a blue whale which died and was washed ashore. Thus, if you see it hanging on the wall of your kid’s bedroom, do not ignore it. Unfortunately, it might mean your child is into it.
The challenge’s recruiters draw kids on social media. It’s very easy to enroll but almost impossible to leave, at least for vulnerable children. They are afraid to leave because the game’s reps threaten to hurt or kill their parents and friends. The agents assign 50 tasks (each of them scales up one by one). The final assignment is to commit suicide and, meanwhile, film it.
Carol Libman, a psychiatrist from Beverly Hills, affirms that its agents are searching for kids who are forsaken, isolated, and depressed. The purpose is to make them feel worse, frustrated, and despaired and gradually push to suicide.
It happens that children are willing to enter the game voluntarily. They post hashtags like #bluewhale_findme or #curator_findme on social media, Facebook mostly. First, a kid might get a simple task to watch a horror movie. Then, it can be cutting themselves, and the last one is taking your own life. Thus, Isaya Gonzales from Texas hung himself in his room. Next to his body, there was a cell phone propped on a shoe and showing the suicide. The boy’s family said their son had been undoubtedly involved in the challenge and was sending mates the photos of completed assignments.
In Russia, an origin country of the game, two girls Yulia Konstantinova (15) and Veronika Volkova (16) fell from a 14-story building. Yulia’s last word was “End” posted on social media. The girl also added the picture of a blue whale.
This kind of online activities keeps emerging. The Internet made children more exposed to dangers and more reachable for people with evil intentions. For example, child predators migrated to social media and use these platforms to befriend kids. They create fake profiles with cute faces and build trust with children. The meeting in person is just the matter of time.
The Internet became a source of information kids are used to turning when questions appear. They google and find all the answers. However, it is also uncontrolled, unfiltered, and uncensored, which is dangerous a priori. It hosts channels and tunnels with the content that threaten sanity and even life. At a very early stage of the kid’s technologizing and digitizing, parents have all the odds to make it right. First, they should raise their personal awareness of every single online phenomenon targeting kids online. So, here are the other most popular ones on the web.
It is a fictional character who was derived from a viral internet meme and excites children to practice unsafe activities. The character looks like a faceless man in a black suit, abnormally tall and thin. It started as a challenge on a web forum. Visitors were asked to photoshop everyday pictures to make them seem supernatural. Usually, he is featured in a foggy forest and with long tentacle arms holding the hand of a sad child.
Slender Man was also depicted in video games (like Minecraft and the Slender Man app on AppStore) and movies. Creepypasta.wikia.com is a website where people generate horror legends or images that go viral. Thus, in most stories, Slender Man has the power to teleport and kids that he managed to hit go crazy or become his servants. He can protect some kids and attack others.
Although Slender Man is fabricated, his influence can be very strong. In 2014, two girls stabbed 19 times their classmate in order to please him. They’ve been stuck on one of the websites dedicated to this character. Both were convicted as adults.
The same year, a woman was attacked by her teen daughter with a knife. She said she’d been inspired by Slender Man. There was also a precedent of the arson when a teen set the house on fire while the family was inside. The teen claimed that Slender Man had imposed the act.
Within the Tide Pod Challenge, children swallow a plastic laundry detergent pod, shoot it, and post on social media. Where did it all start? Back in 2015, an American satirical news website, the Onion, wrote a story about Tide pods’ likeness with sweets. In 2017, the American website College Humor uploaded a video on YouTube under the title “Don’t Eat The Laundry Pods” which got an enormous number of views (3 million) and comments. Later two tweets contributed to creating a new meme format about swallowing Tide’s pods. That way, this meme produced the whole challenge for children.
Its content burns the mouth cavity down into the stomach. The consequence of such act can be the loss of consciousness and asphyxiation. Seizures, produced by the pod’s influence, affect the brain. Other symptoms of kids’ devouring the capsule are nausea, vomiting, coughing. The heart rate can drop fast, which can bring about the failure of vital organs and the heart issues. According to CBS News, these capsules contain hydrogen peroxide, ethanol, and polymers, which are very toxic and highly poisonous if being ingested.
Another self-destructive challenge is the Flatliner or “choking challenge”. To gain a euphoric rush, kids choke themselves untill they lose consciousness. The effect can be achieved exactly after it is back. However, the risk of being strangled to death is very high.
The Ice and Salt Challenge encourages children to put salt and ice on the skin. As a result, they get frostbite. Its main focus is to bear pain as long as possible. Meanwhile, it’s necessary to post on social media the photos demonstrating the participation. Therefore, kids get severe burns and marks.
Kids tear open a condom and inhale it untill it’s possible to pull it from the mouth. Another nostril is stuffed up with a finger. Social media intensified its popularity among teens who are obsessed with likes.
Bruce Lee, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Forbes that it could get stuck in the nose or throat, cut off the breath, and produce the suffocation. He had had two cases in his practice when condoms got into a human body the same way as it is popularized by the challenge. The first provoked pneumonia and the failure of the right upper lobe of the lung. The second one caused appendicitis since a piece of latex traveled to the appendix. All these cases were not intentional. Meanwhile, kids are doing it to get likes and fit in the circle of peers.
A 15-year-old teen from Kentucky got second-degree burns after showering on himself rubbing alcohol and setting himself afire. He imitated the Fire Challenge he’d seen on YouTube and Facebook. Some kids post evidence of their attempts with a hashtag #firechallenge on social media.
Link in Twitter: https://twitter.com/hashtag/firechallenge
The Cinnamon Challenge means swallowing quickly cinnamon powder without water. In 2012, there were about 200 calls (related to cinnamon misuse) to U.S. poison control centers. Due to its chemical and indigestible cellulose, cinnamon damages the lungs. Another side effect is the asthma attack. YouTube spread immensely the idea of this dangerous activity. At present, it’s not that popular as it was but needs to be known about.
When asking children why they are doing it, there’s no ultimate answer. However, it’s possible to pinpoint a trend.
A state education specialist in San Antonio, Stephen Enriquez explains the buzz among kids by their strive to increase likes, views, and followers.
Psychologists and family therapists claim that the peer pressure is a dominant factor that makes teens do crazy things. They strive to fit in their social environment and get famous among mates.
Eric Erickson, a follower of Freud, examined the development of the child in a broader system of social relations. According to his research, the span between 2 and 20 years old is the period when the peer groups are the area of the child’s social relations. They are the source of information, the authority on which they rely when making a decision. At this time, their self-identification is built up. That way, it becomes clear why the peer pressure is so impactful when it’s about the kid’s participation in the challenge.
To make the answer clearer, it’s important to regard the very nature of every single challenge. For example, a kid who’s being into Blue Whale might be suffering from family issues and looking for sort of pain relief with a worse pain resource. Parents might be getting through a divorce case, and there might be constant fights. Thus, they need something else to substitute what they are already surviving. Or, if it’s a cyberbullying case and their self-identity and self-confidence are undermined, they set off to suffer intentionally to make things worse. The point is every challenge fills the gap created after a child didn’t get basically what they needed as human beings within families.
Here’s one of the comments below the article about the Momo Challenge:
When a boy who’s set himself on fire was asked why he’d done it, he said: “I wasn’t thinking about it”. Some resources affirm that children have “invincible thinking”. They cannot reason and take smart decisions when encountering such challenges because the brain area responsible for such skills is not completely developed. Children cannot assess the consequences and the potential risk.
A recent study by MindEdge Learning showed that only 36 % of the surveyed millennials had these skills. 37% of 1,000 interviewed young people admitted that they shared information in social networks, which is more likely inaccurate. At the same time, more than half of them use social networks as the main source of news.
Frank Connolly, the senior editor of MindEdge, notes: “By 2020, according to the World Economic Forum, critical thinking will be the second most important skill after the problem-solving one.” It is difficult to resist the conclusion that the young generation simply cannot think to take decisions that will protect them.
Even if kids were not physically hurt, their abnormal online behavior may cost their academic success and further achievements.
In 2017, students were disciplined for posts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Snapchat. A dozen students from several schools participated in a Nazi Chat Group on Facebook. It was called “4th Reich’s Official Group Chat”. They’ve been posting rape memes, praising “white power”, and appealing to kill Jewish people and black. As a result, five students were excluded from Boulder Preparatory High.
The same year, Harvard University invalidated admission applications of 10 students who exchanged repulsive images within a private Facebook group chat. They posted images and memes that ridiculed minorities, sexual harassment, child grooming, and the Holocaust.
The point is when posting some activity on social media, it not just goes viral but becomes monitored and viewed by people. Any information creates an impression about a person. Thus, the participation in foolish online games can only ruin the reputation. It doesn’t contribute to the creation of a good digital persona. Therefore, kids might have problems with future academic success.
The media sector has undergone palpable shifts and, thus, questioned old-school ways of regulating content. Thus, over the last years, the protection of minors in the media world (TV, video, mobile devices, video) has become an incessant topic.
Lawmakers, parents, and pedagogues have become more and more worried about the destructive impact the television and online content might have on children and the youth.
Protection of children is considered as a sore subject since it requires to navigate between the fundamental right of freedom and expression and the societal purpose of keeping minors safe. The latter is associated with supervising, filtering, and censorship. At present, within the European Union, there is only the Audiovisual Media Services Directive which regulates the content of audiovisual media.
When it’s about participating in online challenges, it’s the matter of the ‘harmful content’ concept. The Council and Commission clearly outlined the term’s definition. It’s noteworthy that both agree on the following: a harmful content might be legal but still have a destructive effect on a child; it’s up to parents and teachers to categorize it. An illegal content is a matter of the concrete country’s definition and criminalized respectively by the national law.
The State establishes what content is illegal and what relevant consequences are associated with its type. However, the harmful content is something that individuals decide for themselves (and for their kids) since they are best conditioned to make decisions about what content to access. This can be sexually explicit material, opinions of politicians, religious beliefs, and racial viewpoints.
Also, within the context of Internet regulation, there are two types of regulatory mechanisms, which are self-regulation and co-regulation. Experts say that technology is an optional regulatory strategy. For example, filtering tools are an example of self-regulation, apart from the State one. They allow preventing or blocking access to specific classifications of content. That way, the control is in the hands of end users, mostly parents, not of the State.
There’s also the Safer Internet Program which is focused on the creation of a safer online environment and the fight against illegal and harmful content. Its nature is rather “verbal” – they support the development and application of codes of self-regulatory solutions, initiatives (for example, the Coalition to Make the Internet a Better Place for Kids; the Safer Social Networking Principles for the EU).
The Commission suggested the Strategy for a better internet for children concentrating on raising awareness in schools, broader use of technology, fight against child grooming. But still, the preference is self-regulation.
In the US, there’s so-called Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) which regulates kids’ access to the Internet at school and libraries. They can receive discounts for the Internet access provided by the E-rate program. Meanwhile, they have to establish an Internet safety policy, which anticipates blocking or filtering the Internet access. What happens outside these buildings? It’s up to kids and parents to decide.
Therefore, as it’s evident from the facts mentioned above, the law green-lights more parents’ authority and power in the child online protection. It means parents are empowered to find out about the risks and take regulatory measures. They are enabled to monitor kids’ online exposure, presence, activity and react accordingly.
When getting into a challenge, most kids are driven by their desire to get more popularity on social media. Therefore, the inferior complexes, lack of confidence and self-identity, intentional self-humiliation are indirect signs that your child might be attracted by such activities. So, the first advice is to observe and sort of monitor the child’s online and offline life.
Here are other signals of the child’s involvement in unsafe games or challenges:
This kind of behavior is a result of abnormal activities they are pushed to complete within a challenge. They put kids out of balance.
They don’t want to talk. Often, kids feel uncomfortable even with parents and close friends. They do not want to open up.
They can push children to seek murky activities and find “allies” who feel the same.
They translate that something went wrong and a child is being through something.
Since challenges require filming the completion of every task, this weird habit might provide a helpful revelation about your kid.
Since the communication with agents happens online, children stay online all the time. You can watch out what kind of sites and social media they visit.
Marks of self-cutting, scars, burns, etc. may speak volume. Just pay attention!
Waking up too early and doing something inappropriate might be a sign. If you noticed kids practicing early birds, do not ignore it.
This list is not complete because every child is unique as well as their behavior.
There’s no universal solution since the prevention, as well as treatment, needs a complex approach from both psychological and physical points of view. Let’s divide tips into preventive and reactive ones.
What parents should do if their kids are not involved or they don’t know about it (preventive):
Note: it’s always important to convey why you do this or that. This way, kids feel that you respect them and won’t rebel against your don’ts.
Note: Please, before following any of these tips, turn to your family therapist or doctor as well as look for support in a local crisis center.
The law, the State, and the community are unanimous in the following: parents’ regulation is the most effective and empowered. Besides, there are so many assistive things to exercise a successful one: from State crisis centers, NGOs’ initiatives to tech assistance in the form of monitoring apps. Altogether, they can help families keep their children safe online.