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Dangers Imagined and Real

Taylor Lorenz writes of unjustified worries about the Momo Challenge’ in Momo Is Not Trying to Kill Children (‘Like eating Tide Pods and snorting condoms, the Momo challenge is a viral hoax’).   Lorenz has made a career of observing and reporting on social media trends, and reassures that

On Tuesday afternoon, a Twitter user going by the name of Wanda Maximoff whipped out her iPhone and posted a terrifying message to parents.

“Warning! Please read, this is real,” she tweeted. “There is a thing called ‘Momo’ that’s instructing kids to kill themselves,” the attached screenshot of a Facebook post reads. “INFORM EVERYONE YOU CAN.”

To any concerned parents reading this: Do not worry. The “Momo challenge” is a recurring viral hoax that has been perpetuated by local news stations and scared parents around the world. This entire cycle of shock, terror, and outrage about Momo previously took place less than a year ago: Last summer, local news outlets across the country reported that the Momo challenge was spreading among teens via WhatsApp. Previously, rumors about the challenge spread throughout Latin America and Spanish-speaking countries.

….

“Momo” itself is an innocuous sculpture created by the artist Keisuke Aisawa for the Japanese special-effects company Link Factory. The real title of the artwork is Mother Bird, and it was on display at Tokyo’s horror-art Vanilla Gallery back in 2016. After some Instagram photos of the exhibit were posted to the Reddit channel Creepy, it spread, and the “Momo challenge” urban legend was born.

(Image via PSNI.CRAIGAVON / FACEBOOK.)

Lorenz knows, however, that there are other social risks that are real:

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.”

A misshapen sculpture from a Japanese art gallery, however odd, isn’t a genuine problem.  Reason and careful observation will, if applied, lead us to look elsewhere for true dangers.

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