Fake news or not, Momo had to happen

My three-year-old daughter can’t navigate YouTube on her own yet. She couldn’t actually be arsed about TV, but it wasn’t always this way. Until recently, we had to endure months and MONTHS of The Wiggles. The same two seasons. On repeat. All day loooong. Thanks, Netflix. 

We also play toddler channels when she’s in the bath. Some days, she’s transfixed. Others, she’s too busy fake crying while watching herself in the mirror to care about singing The Wheels on the Bus for the 3000th time. It’s all about balance. 

My point is, she’s at an age where we decide and control what she watches. Which means we can choose channels that have yet to be infiltrated by the likes of Momo and suicidal Peppa Pig. But it won’t be long before we lose some of that control. 

So, when these stories appeared on my Facebook feed, I read them and shared them – without verifying them first. I know. Shocker, right?

Now, it’s emerged that Momo was an elaborate social media hoax designed to ruffle parents’ feathers. Those who shared it were labelled ‘dummies’ and accused of flaming the fires of fake news and creating unnecessary panic. It’s dummies like us – genuinely concerned parents, aunts, uncles, grannies – who are the reason fake news is a thing. Shame on us. 

Sorry, not sorry

But is the joke really on us? Were we irresponsible in sharing Momo and psychotic Peppa Pig? I don’t think so. I’m glad they happened. And here’s why. 

According to the Safer Internet Day 2017 report:

  • 70% of eight- to 17-year-olds had seen images and videos not suitable for their age in the last year;
  • While the same percentage recognised that images and videos can be misleading, only 33% find it easy to check if the images and videos are truthful; and
  • 56% had shared images or videos on social media but 23% don’t know how to control who can see what they post.

Momo went viral for all the right reasons. Parents who had never monitored their children’s Internet use got a wake-up call and educated themselves on security controls. Some parents who commented on my post said they’d never checked their kids’ browsing history. Never. They had no idea what their kids were watching and never tuned in with half an ear to what was streaming on their kids’ devices. 

Well, they are now. We all are. We’re making a conscious effort to put down our own devices to pay more attention to what our kids are being exposed to. Sharing Momo, fake or not, resulted in angry mothers rallying together and gathering their troops, calling on the likes of YouTube to get their shit together and clamp down on what can be posted on kids’ channels.

My point is, the hysteria was not for nothing. It has started a ball rolling and maybe our kids will be a bit safer online, either through our own efforts as parents, or through those of the social media giants who promise to be more responsible. 

There are other things we can do, like:

  • Have open conversations with our kids about safe Internet use and educate them about the horrors they might encounter online. This way, when they do, they’re more likely to talk to us about it, rather than us dummies finding out by accident. 
  • Educate them on how to check the truthfulness of anything they come across. They need to know that they can’t trust everything they see or read.  And, yes, if it’s fake news, they shouldn’t share it. 
  • Read this article on how to make YouTube Kids safer.

Fool me once

I don’t care if Momo was fake. I don’t care that I shared it and sounded alarm bells when there was “nothing to be alarmed about”. Because clearly there is. And clearly we all needed to see Momo’s horrifying face to start paying attention to what our children may be exposed to.

Here it is again, in case it’s still not haunting your dreams…

And, if it happens again, I’ll share it again. Because we need our cages rattled once in a while. We need to protect the little people who don’t know when something is real or not, and who don’t know what it actually means to kill yourself. 

I shudder to think what technology my daughter will be using in five years’ time. For now, I’m happy to listen to The Wheels on the Bus for the 3001st time. Even if it’s The Wiggles singing it.

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