DAYTONA BEACH -- A viral internet hoax reached a Florida county this week, as a school district alerted parents to “the Momo challenge” and to talk to their children about online safety.
But experts agree: Although you should always monitor your children’s activity online and speak to them about staying safe, the Momo challenge is not real.
The challenge allegedly involves disturbing images popping up in videos, video games or messaging apps and urging young children to harm their parents or themselves.
Neither the Volusia County school district nor the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office have been notified of any children acting out as a result of seeing the rumored videos or images online.
But the Volusia school district sent a message to parents on Wednesday night, after principals at two elementary schools overheard students asking each other if they had heard of the challenge and saying they were going to Google it.
“We want to raise your level of cyber awareness regarding an internet craze called the Momo challenge,” the message said. “We strongly encourage you to speak with your students and remind them not to talk to strangers online or open links or documents from unknown sources.”
The Atlantic traced the resurgence of the Momo rumor, which actually dates back to 2018, to a tweet that said “Warning! This is real, please read,” with screenshots sharing information about the challenge. At the time of publication, the Tuesday tweet had been shared 24,000 times. Local news outlets around the world began posting stories that explained to parents what the challenge was and to beware, and celebrities like Kim Kardashian urged YouTube to take action.
Despite all the buzz around it, YouTube denies the presence of any such videos on its platforms. And police agencies around the world have not linked any deaths to the challenge.
“Word of the Momo Challenge is now so widespread that whether or not it represents a real threat, the subject has generated rumors that in themselves can be cause for concern among children,” reported Snopes, a site devoted to fact-checking online rumors.
Experts interviewed by The Guardian reported that even the rumor or myth of such a creepy online trend can scare children, pique their interest and increase the risk of harm.
The best thing to do might be not to talk about the Momo Challenge at all. But at least some students in Volusia schools have already heard of it.
Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that helps parents and children navigate an increasingly digital world, explains that internet safety is about more than just blocking harmful content from children’s devices. The organization encourages parents to continually talk to children about following family rules on how to use the internet, how to recognize “red flags” in conversations or content, and to immediately tell an adult if something mean or creepy happens.
At commonsensemedia.org, the organization offers tips on how to have age-appropriate conversations with children and offers parental guides on topics ranging from Fortnite, a popular video game, to violence in the media.
The Momo challenge is the second instance of “fake news” circulated in Volusia this month. Last week, a “satire” website published a false story that Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University purchased a space shuttle from NASA to train students.