Last month schools across the country and world marked Safer Internet Day – the theme was Together for a better internet. Jonathan Taylor MSc is an online safety and social media consultant who trains children and teachers in schools all over the world. Here he talks about the online “challenges” that exploit children.
Online validation invariably involves online broadcasting using social media, eg YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Periscope and Badoo (there are others). Therefore, Cambridge parents, carers, professionals and students should be informed in advance about the possible dangers.
Warnings about Momo Challenge, Deleted, Tide Pod, Deodorant & Blue Whale Challenge have proved far more viral than the challenges themselves, anything that puts suggestions and images of self-harm and suicide in front of children who are already vulnerable to self-esteem and other psychological issues can carry dangerous potential. One of my biggest concerns about rumours like these is the risk of suicide contagion, which could turn these challenges into reality for a small number of vulnerable youth. When Online Challenges become widely popular you cannot prevent the desire of some teenagers to exploit themselves to scare peers or younger kids. Whether we adults like it or not, these phenomena exist to prey on the minds of the vulnerable. So to call them hoaxes is inaccurate and dangerous. Remember! All of these Challenges are filmed and uploaded to social media on Mobile Phones; as many videos exist, this can reinforce the validation for attempting and completing the challenge.
Online Challenges to be aware of:
Blue Whale Challenge
Over the course of 50 days, specific tasks are assigned to children and teenagers by an anonymous group administrator. It could be self-harm, like urging players to cut themselves to cut themselves in the shape of a whale. Targeted at 10-14 year olds, players have to send photo evidence to their group administrator.
The Momo Challenge
The Momo Challenge is similar to Blue Whale and is aimed at 10 to 16 year olds, however it encourages students to contact an unknown person called “Momo” via Whatsapp. Throughout the challenge, the participants will receive violent and graphic images and texts and if they wish to stop the challenge, “Momo” threatens to leak their personal information; then the stranger asks them to share photos and videos completing certain tasks – these start off small and escalate.
This is the latest to worry parents, as children who take part are seriously injuring themselves. It´s a test of endurance and involves spraying deodorant from an aerosol directly onto bare skin – the aim is to see who can hold it there the longest. This is a very scary trend as the participants are committing chemical burns that can be second and third-degree.
Health experts warn parents about a new viral craze becoming popular, where children will eat food along with their wrappers, including plastic and cardboard. They are supposed to film themselves eating these.
Whilst all of these challenges are physical, not technological, without the use of electronic devices, the message could not be spread, therefore the online validation sought, the online badge of honour received, and the online motivation and justification for behaving this way would not go viral.
For more information and advice on keeping children and young adults safe online, visit www.besafe-online.co.uk
UK Safer Internet Centre reveals all
• 38% of young people said it is easier to be themselves online than off line.
• 62% of young people are careful about what they share because they´ve seen people be mean.
• The internet is creating an informed and inspired generation that is taking action.
• Almost half of young people aged 8 to 17 said that their online activity makes up an essential part of who they are off line.
• 54% admit they would feel lost, confused or as if they´d lost a part of themselves if their online accounts were taken away.