School district warns parents of ‘Momo’ internet challenge, rumors

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published March 7, 2019

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ROCHESTER/ROCHESTER HILLS/OAKLAND TOWNSHIP — The Rochester Community Schools district is reminding parents to pay careful attention to their students’ online activity, as the “Momo Challenge” continues to attract attention on social media.

In a March 1 email, RCS officials alerted district parents of the internet challenge, which reportedly “targets children with videos that depict disturbing images of an avatar who encourages self-harm and dares, and warns viewers not to tell their parents.”

Momo — a haunting doll character with bulging eyes and stringy black hair  — is reported to have appeared on popular social platforms, including YouTube and YouTube Kids, Facebook, WhatsApp, and other apps with chat, video and/or advertising capabilities.
 
While some claim they’ve seen the videos themselves, others — like the popular fact-checking website Snopes — say the challenge is likely a hoax.

 In response to public concern, YouTube released a statement on Twitter on Feb. 27, saying the platform has “seen no recent evidence of videos promoting the Momo Challenge on YouTube.”
 
YouTube officials said videos encouraging harmful and dangerous challenges are against its policies and urged anyone who has seen such videos on YouTube to flag the content immediately.

“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,” the statement reads.

Regardless of if there is any real threat, officials said the subject has generated enough rumors that could alarm children, prompting various school districts — including RCS — to alert parents.

In an email, RCS officials encouraged parents to talk to their children about safe and appropriate online behavior and said to make sure their kids know to speak with a trusted adult if they ever see something questionable on any of their devices.

RCS Deputy Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Debi Fragomeni said the district’s principals and staff members are aware of the trend.

“The district’s technology department cannot guarantee its ability to block these images from popping up, since they are reportedly hidden and woven into multiple social media sites, videos, reviews and applications. RCS continues to monitor the issue to the best of our ability. We ask parents to be attentive at home as well,” she said in an email.

District officials also offered a few online safety tips for parents, including using privacy settings; limiting screen time to an open, common area in the household; and reminding children that information shared on social media is not always truthful and that they should never engage in conversations with strangers online. Parents, they said, should always be aware of the sites and apps their children are using and know their usernames and passwords; turn off suggested autoplay on videos to stop children from viewing unwanted content; and encourage open dialogue with their children about any concerns.

“Remember: Parents are the best safeguard for their children online,” district officials stated in the email.

Local police departments said they have not received any reports of crime in relation to the Momo Challenge.

“I haven’t seen anything in reference to that at all,” Capt. Michael Johnson, from the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office’s Rochester Hills substation, said at press time.

Rochester Police Chief Steve Schettenhelm said the same of his department.

“We don’t really have any significant things to report, or issues, due to the Momo craze,” he said.

In any case, police said parents should always be aware of what their children are watching online.

A great way to do that, Johnson said, is to always keep the people who are using the computers, or devices, in view.

“A lot of people are making sure the computers their kids are using are in the family room, or in an area where they can be aware of what’s going on,” he said. “It’s the same deal that I made with my kids when they were using phones. Know your kids’ passwords and go in and look and see what they are doing. It’s real important.”

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