FILE - This Feb. 19, 2014, file photo shows the Facebook app icon on an iPhone in New York. Panic over what children are picking up over the Internet sweep social media on a regular basis. In the most recent, children are purportedly encouraged to complete harmful tasks. Though the so-called Momo challenge is believed to be a hoax, other “challenges” and trends should cause concern. (AP Photo/Karly Domb Sadof, File)

Don’t panic: How parents can deal with internet hoaxes

Experts say internet hoaxes focused on youth tap into fears parents have about protecting their children

The latest parental panic on social media — over a purported challenge for kids to complete harmful tasks — elevates the importance of establishing an open dialogue with children and taking advantage of online parental controls.

Warnings about the “Momo challenge” swept Facebook and other social media in recent days, as parents worried about purported videos that encourage children to hurt themselves or do other harmful tasks such as turning on stoves without telling their parents. The parental warnings were accompanied by a disturbing image of a grinning creature with matted hair and bulging eyes.

But the challenge is believed to be a hoax. It’s unclear how many videos exist or to what extent they have circulated, among children or elsewhere. Some of the videos might have been made in response to media attention surrounding the challenge. Meanwhile, the image of the grinning creature is reportedly from a Japanese sculpture.

Fact-checking site Snopes said the challenge first appeared in mid-2018 linked to suicide reports without actual evidence. YouTube said it hasn’t received “any recent evidence of videos showing or promoting the Momo challenge” on its service.

So why the panic? Experts say internet hoaxes focused on children tap into fears that parents have about protecting their children online and elsewhere. In addition to anxiety about “screen time ” in general, there is certainly plenty of problematic videos that children shouldn’t watch. It’s hard for parents to police everything children do online. Fears were compounded when some school systems, local media and even police sent out their own warnings, accompanied by fuzzy facts.

“All moral panics feed on some degree of reality, but then they get blown out of proportion,” said Steve Jones, a professor of communications at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

READ MORE: Disturbing Momo Challenge a ‘teachable moment’ social media expert says

These hoaxes echo panics from decades past, like the false belief in the 1980s that teenagers were hearing Satanic messages in rock song lyrics, he said.

“Once the internet is involved in the mix, things get speeded up and they get more widespread,” Jones said.

The most important thing parents can do is to establish an open dialogue with their children about what they’re seeing online and hearing from other children, said Jill Murphy, editor-in-chief at Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based non-profit group focused on kids’ use of media and technology.

“Parents are increasingly frustrated with feeling surprised or caught off guard by what is being put in front of their kids,” she said. Whether the “challenges” are real or not, she said, “they elevate the idea that they may or may not know exactly what their kids are absorbing through these platforms.”

That’s why talking to children is important, she said. “Take the right time to have an age-appropriate conversation, and help your kids understand not everything on the internet is real.”

She said parents should also take advantage of parental settings built into many products and services. Most web browsers can block certain websites, limit what children can see and provide a report about what sites a child visited. Smartphones and tablets can limit screen time and access to apps. YouTube Kids lets parents disable search and turn off “autoplay.” Murphy said these free tools are good enough; no need to pay for third-party parental apps.

Another option is to download apps from shows or channels directly rather than going through streaming services such as YouTube. PBS, Peppa Pig, Nick Jr. and other popular services for kids have their own apps, with pre-screened videos deemed appropriate for kids.

And though it may seem contradictory, going online to research the hoaxes could also help. The Momo hoax was debunked fairly quickly after people questioned it, Jones said. Give weight to trusted news sources and fact-checking sites like Snopes.com.

“Take a deep breath and go online as strange as that may seem in some sense,” he said. “Do some research and try to figure it out for yourself.”

Mae Anderson, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Nelson councillor starts national municipal climate group

Climate Leadership Caucus has 57 members including seven mayors

RDCK to purchase portion of lands around Cottonwood Lake

21.6 hectares will be purchased for $450,000

COLUMN: Helping my father keep his dignity as he was dying

Nelson teacher Robyn Sheppard reflects on the life and death of her father

Nelson presents proposed 2019 budget with undecided tax increase

Further details will be available after a council meeting in April.

Nelson to get legal opinion on right-to-life street banner

Does the Nelson Right to Life banner violate the Charter of Rights?

Truck driver in fatal Broncos crash sentenced to eight years

Judge Inez Cardinal told court in Melfort, Sask., that Sidhu’s remorse and guilty plea were mitigating factors

Fierce feline spotted as ‘aggressor’ in face off with coyote in B.C. backyard

North Vancouver resident Norm Lee captures orange cat versus coyote in backyard showdown

Wilson-Raybould to reveal more details, documents on SNC-Lavalin affair

Former attorney general has written to the House of Commons justice committee

Anti-discrimination group wants to map offenders with cross-Canada hate atlas

Morgane Oger Foundation issues call for volunteers to help build Canadian Atlas of Populist Extremism

Kater to launch ridesharing service in Vancouver by end of month

The Surrey-based company got its permits from the Vancouver Taxi Association

Second case of measles reported in the B.C. Interior

Case is connected to an earlier measles case in 100 Mile House

Cheetahs will not prosper in Creston: Permit rejected for two big cats

Earl Pfeifer owns two cheetahs, one of which escaped in December 2015

GM announces jobs, electric vehicle after Trump criticism

The company says it will spend $300 million at its plant in Orion Township

Most Read