If the message is “keep an eye on what you're children do online,” then maybe there's a small bit of value in the “Momo” threat/hoax.
In the meantime, all that has appeared to occur is the passing along of some dubious rumors, some copycat videos and a bunch of panic over what shows signs of being a manufactured threat.
The Decatur School District on Thursday tweeted “Parents, monitor your children's online activity!” and attached a link to a post by a British school safety organization, National Online Safety.
The “Momo” threat, according to a number of sources, is a form of cyberbullying on applications like WhatsApp and YouTube. Children allegedly receive anonymous threatening messages along with pictures of “Momo.” Momo in real life is a haunting, but unrelated, sculpture.
The details of much of what is connected with Momo are fuzzy. Actual credible visual evidence, if any of it could or does exist, has not reached critical internet mass yet. The majority of the “news” involves the ambiguous sourcing being used even in this editorial. “Reportedly,” “allegedly” and “according to a number of sources” pop up regularly in the reporting. Trying to get to the bottom of the story leads down a number of internet ratholes, dead ends and reposts of “news” already proven to be false. There are links to Facebook pages and tweets that say the posts no longer exist.
There's even confusion about who created the original sculpture, including what appears to be (there's another of those phrases) a Facebook page of the woman falsely believed to have been the sculptor. She's receiving the special threats one can only receive online – racist, violent and graphic.
We've seen the degrees people will go to in order to put themselves in the middle of a story. This threat is perfect for that kind of glory seeker, because it's also the kind of threat that arouses our desires to protect our children.
A problem, however, is the proliferation of false information. The increased attention placed on a story like this leads to copycats, and blurs the lines between truth and myth even further.
The internet word for such stories is creepypasta. Horror-related stories and images, often paranormal, are passed around the internet. Every once in a while, one of them crosses over into the mainstream. The most disturbing crossover came in 2014, when a 12-year-old girl from Waukesha, Wisconsin, was stabbed by two of her friends who were trying to prove the existence of a fictional predator known as “Slender Man.”
In perhaps the most interesting twist of all, this week's mentions of Momo are not the first to come across our desks. In August of 2018, the Herald & Review website had a story about the threat, which at that time embedded tweets from news outlets in Australia and in Houston repeating law enforcement alerts about the threat. Again, in those cases, there was no indication of anyone actually seeing the alleged threat.
Are there dangerous things on the internet? Yes, right now and every day. Can children access content inappropriate for them? Certainly.
That's why it's incumbent on guardians to not only be aware of what sites are being visited by children, but also be aware of the hoaxes online, and share information only from official sources and from honest personal experience. Similar to what we'd like to think all of us do before passing along any information.