Friday, March 1, 2019

What This Instructional Technologist Learned from the MOMO Challenge

Yesterday I spent hours researching a sinister mother bird known as MOMO. This is time I can never get back but the time I felt needed to be spent to best support the families of our school. Trying to discern whether the MOMO Suicide Challenge was real or not. Trying to discern how pervasive the issue really was. Trying to answer emails from concerned parents. Trying to decide how best to communicate with our stakeholders regarding it all. Wavering between "it isn't something to be concerned about" to "yes, it is something to be concerned about" over and over throughout the day.

The frustration over all this is high but it has also been a huge eye-opening learning experience for me. Today, our school sent out this email to families regarding this hot topic. As someone that has lived with suicidal thoughts during a time in my life, I don't take this lightly. That being said, I also believe that social media can cause this to be blown out of proportion and it becomes glamorized. That's my concern.

Here are some interesting thoughts I have had while researching this:

  • This is a direct hit to adult responsibility because MOMO is now showing up randomly inside what would be considered kid-friendly videos on YouTube (Peppa the Pig and Fortnite, for instance). When I look around I see adults oftentimes unaware of what children are actually doing on devices. There is a false sense of security and complacency that some adults have accepted that is getting a huge slap in the face.
  • I spent hours researching MOMO and I'm still not sure of its initial pervasiveness and impact on society and this worries me as an instructional technologist. 
  • Adults seem to be propagating the issue and it's mainly on Facebook. I get it, parents are scared. The MOMO character and it's message should not be heard by anyone but when I ask students what they know about it, most know very little. Facebook is now an adult heavy platform and the fear we are seeing there is not translating into actual issues- at least at our school. The concern is a breeding frenzy. The more we repost and share, the more likely that bad people continue to create bad things. We feed their need to think what they are doing is worthwhile.  
  • This is a digital citizenship issue at every level. Yes, there are videos on YouTube that have been created in what I feel is a copycat manner based on the original concept of what purportedly was happing in the WhatsApp messaging app. But if you are allowing your students/children to watch any video of Peppa Pig uploaded by any person, these are pirated videos and the chance of them containing inappropriate information is there. Adults should use this time to model and teach children about looking for ways to view things that take copyright laws into account. If you want to watch a video on YouTube, look for an official owner of that video to see if it exists. If it doesn't, YouTube isn't where you should be going to watch someone's version of a video recording of that streaming TV program. 
  •  We are in an era where we cannot just repost and retweet what we see on social media without looking a little deeper. is a great place to check for validity. What we are seeing this week regarding MOMO is lightyears away from what was originally being suggested was happening. It is still horrifying that people are trying to trick small children to watch self-harm videos but we need to be vigilant in knowing we have a responsibility on the information that is actually being shared. 
  • Fear causes people to shut down good things. With every good gift that God has given us, there will always be people that use it for sinister plans. YouTube and WhatsApp aren't inherently bad, they just need to be used in appropriate ways. Don't allow evil to win. This is a reminder of the "Blue Whale Challenge." We must be both discerning and vigilant in the way we both address and ignore these type of things within our community.
  • This is a great opportunity to talk to children about self-harm and self-awareness. Creating a sense of open communication is important in all aspects of a child's life, not just technology.  
  • Lastly, there will be something else. When I was young it was listening to Ozzy Osborn records backward. Recently it was the "Tide Pods Challenge" and the "Blue Whale." As adults, we need to look at the last few days and not immediately repost what we are seeing or assume it is real. This is why it took me days to figure out if this problem was actually immersive or not. Help the world by not feeding the frenzy. 

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