Mo’ Internet, Mo’ Problems
Author: Chris Johnson  


The uproar over the alleged denizen of children’s YouTube videos known as “Momo” seems to have died down. Google and various tech publications have claimed it never existed and was simply a masterful “troll” of concerned parents, while the multitude of first and second hand accounts have petered out.

In case you’re not on Facebook or somehow missed all of the excitement, beginning in earnest several weeks ago, articles and posts claiming that a distorted and scary face was appearing in the kids’ section of YouTube, telling them to harm and even kill themselves.

Local and national news did reports, videos and social media posts were shared, and parents suddenly grew concerned about what their children might see on the internet.

In spite of the disagreement between some about whether or not the Momo phenomenon really existed, one thing is certain: kids are seeing scary things and being dangerously influenced by the internet every day, albeit often in much more subtle ways.

One example is shared by parents of “transgender” teenagers, as related at The Public Discourse. Here’s one such account, “She tried to convince us with a very scripted explanation that she had always ‘felt’ like a boy. But we had never once seen or heard from her any evidence of this ‘feeling’. We listened to her, gave her the space to talk about her feelings, and tried hard not to convey to her that we were utterly horrified by this revelation.

“As we began to try to find information to make sense of this, we found evidence of a social contagion all over the internet. YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and Reddit supplied a how-to guide and handbook on transitioning, complete with trans stars like Jazz Jennings and Riley J. Dennis, many with thousands of followers.”

Here’s another parent’s account, “She parroted online advice: “I always knew something was wrong but didn’t have words for it until I started watching videos on Tumblr and YouTube. When I was little, I was afraid to tell you that I didn’t feel right.”

“This narrative matched nothing about her past...”

One more: “At the age of seventeen, after immersion on Tumblr and after two of her oldest and closest friends in high school declared themselves transgender, our daughter told us that she is ‘really a guy.’”

Tumblr is another social site, by the way, and has a reputation for being rife with social and sexual deviants.

Of course, that’s an extreme example of kids being influenced by the internet; another related example, which my colleague Steve Huston has written about recently, is known as “suicide porn.”

As Steve explains it, Suicide Porn is content (pictures and/or words) that glamorizes self-harm and encourages its viewers to act on their sense of self-hatred or self-hurt. In social media platforms (like Instagram) viewers are often drawn in and encouraged to self-mutilate, are instructed by others as to how they can mutilate more effectively—more blood, better scars, etc. - and be assured, it can also lead to intentional or accidental suicide.”

Since that article is so fresh, I’ll let you follow the link to read more about that there, if you so desire, but I’ll give you one more troubling, but less gut-wrenching, example.

From the “Scientific American” comes an article entitled, “The Internet Knows You Better Than Your Spouse Does,” which comes from a study which employed a program to analyze the posts, pictures, videos, etc. that users had “liked” on Facebook.

“If the software had as few as 10 for analysis, it was able to evaluate that person about as well as a co-worker did. Given 70 likes, the algorithm was about as accurate as a friend. With 300, it was more successful than the person’s spouse. Even more astonishing to the researchers, feeding likes into their program enabled them to predict whether someone suffered from depression or took drugs and even to infer what the individual studied in school.”

Of course, that data is then sold to advertisers who will target Facebook users with the most effective advertisement to buy their product, or donate to their campaign, or vote for their officials.

Whether Momo was a hoax or not, it was the least of parents’ concerns about the internet. But if a creepy video clip on Youtube Kids made parents start paying attention to their child’s online activities, it’s a small price to pay, if you ask me.

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