Taylor Lorenz explains that the ‘MOMO challenge’ is another hoax built around fear and hysteria. The real issue is that the internet is changing the world of young people with much of this out of our control. In part, this is something Julian Stodd touches upon in his discussion of the algorithmic wars
As ever, our challenge is this, and it’s a challenge we must face up to in the middle of this war: technology will take us into places that we are ill equipped to deal with. But our ability to deal with it cannot be framed in the old understanding of knowledge, decision making, and power. It’s a new type of challenge that is faced in a new kind of space. And it will require new types of thinking to ensure that, on balance, the change takes us into a new type of space that we can comfortably inhabit. Primary interpretations of the current swathes of change according to know and well understood frameworks may be dangerous: it may comfort us to think of small groups of elite enemy agents undermining our democracy, but this is but one facet of change
Some other read on digital control is Alexandria Samuel’s discussion of parenting styles, Cory Doctorow’s reports on griefers and Alex Hern’s news about YouTube comments and paedophilia.
All of these challenges and trends follow the same formula: A local news station runs a piece overstating a dangerous teen trend. Concerned parents flock to social media to spread the word. Actual teenagers and anyone else who lives their life Extremely Online mock them for their naïveté. Brands and influencers hop on the trend, parodying it and exploiting it for their own gain. And trolls take advantage of those who believe it’s real, often by creating and posting content that seemingly confirms parents’ worst fears. SNL brilliantly parodied this cycle in 2010. Since then, it has only gotten worse.
The problem is, these stories are only ever a distraction. They offer false reassurance and an easy fix to the wrong problem. If you can protect your child from the Momo challenge, the thinking goes, you can protect them from bad things on the internet. Unfortunately, maintaining kids’ safety online is a much more complicated and delicate task. “This whole ‘Momo is making kids commit suicide’ is a digital version of playing Beatles records backwards to hear Satanic messages,” says Ben Collins, a journalist who covers misinformation. “It does a real disservice to all the harmful stuff targeting children and teens on YouTube.”
What many parents miss is that the platforms themselves often perpetuate harm. Their automated moderation systems fail to flag inappropriate content. Their skewed content-recommendation algorithms promote extremist beliefs. They don’t protect kids against cyberbullying from peers, they milk kids under the age of 13 for money and engagement, and they promote truly gruesome content.