WARNING: Post contains graphic content
Millions of parents have read about the disturbing Momo Challenge making the rounds on the internet—the “suicide game” features a grotesque face that encourages viewers to kill themselves—but father of three Dustin Gale never expected to see violent images like it in his own home.
That’s exactly what happened this week though, when he says a Peppa Pig cartoon came up as a recommended video on YouTube Kids. The video begins as any other episode of Peppa Pig would, but about 20 seconds in, the screen cuts to Momo and a chilling altered male voice that says: “Look into my eyes, I won’t lie. You’re going to die. Slice your wrists and your parents will never see. Sweet dreams, beware of me.” The clip of the creature ends with a flash of bold red letters that read “MOMO” before cutting back to Peppa Pig:
On his Facebook post, Gale says his kids love watching videos of Peppa Pig, so this clip showed up as a recommended video on the YouTube Kids home screen—but wasn’t the only Momo video he found when he started investigating. “I ran across multiple videos in 20 mins that had this Momo thing in there,” he writes. “What must parents don’t understand is if it’s marked ‘kid appropriate’, it can show up on YouTube Kids as well. YouTube doesn’t seem to watch the full videos before approving the uploads.”
The original “Momo Challenge” is an internet suicide game where the grotesque female face gives instructions to use the messaging platform WhatsApp to communicate with a contact who encourages violence and ultimately suggests the user commit suicide.
Occurrences like the spliced Momo clip discovered by Gale may be coming from copycats of the original, but they encourage violence and dangerous behavior nonetheless. This week, a California mother told CBS News her 12-year-old daughter with autism began talking about Momo and exhibiting concerning behavior; the mother discovered she had seen clips of the character in online videos she’d been viewing.
For its part, YouTube released a statement via Twitter on Tuesday disputing the existence of the Momo Challenge on its platform. “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.”
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.
— YouTube (@YouTube) February 27, 2019
It continued, “If you see videos including harmful or dangerous challenges on YouTube, we encourage you to flag them to us immediately. These challenges are clearly against our Community Guidelines.”
If you see videos including harmful or dangerous challenges on YouTube, we encourage you to flag them to us immediately. These challenges are clearly against our Community Guidelines. More info here: https://t.co/H0C5tCfn5S
— YouTube (@YouTube) February 27, 2019
As a mother of four myself, there’s something about seeing a concrete example—not just reading about it—that chills me to my core. Plus, it drives the point home even more urgently: our children simply CANNOT be allowed to watch videos online—even on “safer” apps like YouTube Kids—unsupervised.
We MUST talk with our kids about what’s out there on the internet, and keep an open dialogue with them so when—not if—they come across disturbing or concerning content, they come to us with it.
Apps like YouTube Kids also have parental controls that should be put in place to minimize the possibility of graphic content making it to young eyes. On YouTube Kids:
- Open settings
- Click on your child’s profile
- Check “approved content only” and choose channels and videos you want your children to be able to view
While there remains some confusion about the disturbing images and where they’re coming from, the bottom line for parents is this: talk to your kids early and often.
In his Facebook post, Gale echoes the what millions of parents across the globe wonder as we struggle to protect our kids online—and raise them in a world where evil can be disguised in a beloved pig’s clothing. “I’m not sure what type of disgusted person thinks this is funny. #StayAlertParents”