An internet meme referred to as the "Momo Challenge" resurfaced this week after an uncredited blog posted a vague piece about an unattached YouTube video. The site, called pedimom (which now appears to be offline) contains an anonymous post by an author who claims to be a "physician mom," but cites no references to verify. In the post, the author claimed to have spotted a video appearing in YouTube Kids that cut from a cartoon to a guy walking in, offering instructions on how to kill themselves.
This post is a resurgence of the story, which became prominent last year. In the UK, the death of a 12-year-old girl was blamed on the "challenge" which, at the time, was being attributed to WhatsApp instead of YouTube. Neither this death nor any others in the world have been actually linked to this "challenge," which doesn't actually exist.
Following this anonymous post, which provides no evidence, including the video referenced by the post, publications all over the world ran with the story, creating mass hysteria. Schools, counties, and social media went crazy spreading false information about a child safety issue that never existed and was never verified, panicking parents and educators alike. The lack of evidence is verified by YouTube, who released a statement saying,
We want to clear something up regarding the Momo Challenge: We've seen no recent evidence of videos promoting the Momo Challenge on YouTube. Videos encouraging harmful and dangerous challenges are against our policies.
This is yet another example of the problems facing modern news consumers: no publication can be trusted. Everyone involved in this hoax has something to gain, except the parents. The Washington Post, The New York Times, etc., all get eyeballs and ad impressions because the story is "sensational" and is bound to scare parents, who will share it on social media, increasing the eyeballs and ad impressions. The hoax site gets eyeballs and ad impressions because these publications all link to the original post, which contains scary words and absolutely no information.
We need to hold publications, especially well-regarded brands, accountable for taking advantage of ignorance, fear, and bias to spread knowingly false information.