Youtube and the Momo Challenge
By Matt Vay | March 10, 2019
Youtube has been in hot waters recently over a series of high profile incidents that have gained massive media coverage and put into question the algorithms that drive its business and the role it should be playing in censoring the content it puts out. The first incident consisted of predatory comments made on videos showing children with the second major incident, and the focus of this blogpost, dealing with a new dangerous challenge called the “Momo Challenge”.
What is the Momo Challenge?
Momo began as an urban legend created in a public forum online but evolved over time. The Momo Challenge has become a series of images that appear in children’s videos, telling kids to harm themselves. Many believe this story has been perpetuated by mainstream media and unnecessarily frightened parents across the world due to the lack of evidence of these videos existing on Youtube. However, this has brought to attention once again, what role does Youtube play in censoring the content that it puts out on its website?
What are the legal and ethical issues?
Youtube’s recommender algorithm has been the subject of great debate over the past few years. It has a tendency to place individuals into “filter bubbles” where they are shown videos similar to those they have watched in the past. But what kind of dangers could that lead to when the videos it records our children watching are dangerous pranks? Could it lead to seeing a child watching the Momo Challenge and then recommend them to watch a Tide Pod Challenge video? Companies with this much power have a responsibility to protect the rights of our young children from seeing disturbing content. If a child watches one of these videos and then harms them self, how much to blame is Youtube for its part in recommending these videos?
What has Youtube done?
The Momo Challenge is not the first time our nation has been captivated by a dangerous challenge that has been targeted at our youth. From the tide pod challenge to the bird box challenge, Youtube has experience these dangerous pranks before and recently updated their Community Guidelines. In them, Youtube policies now ban challenge and prank videos that could lead to serious physical injury. They even went one step further with the Momo Challenge and demonetized all videos even referencing Momo. Many of those videos also have warning screens that classify the video as having potentially offensive content.
Where do we go from here?
Unfortunately, these types of videos do not seem to be going away. Youtube has taken the right steps toward censoring its content for children, but how much further do they need to go? I think that answer is very unclear. Nobody will ever be fully happy with all of the content found on Youtube and that is the nature of the beast. It is an open source video sharing platform where users can upload a video file with anything they want in it. But with children gaining access to these sites with ease and at such a young age, we always need to be challenging Youtube to be better with its policies, its censorship and its algorithms, as it likely will never be enough.
Alexander, Julia. “YouTube Is Demonetizing All Videos about Momo.” The Verge, The Verge, 1 Mar. 2019, www.theverge.com/2019/3/1/18244890/momo-youtube-news-hoax-demonetization-comments-kids.
Hale, James Loke. “YouTube Bans Stunts Like Particularly Risky ‘Bird Box,’ Tide Pod Challenges In Updated Guidelines.” Tubefilter, Tubefilter, 16 Jan. 2019, www.tubefilter.com/2019/01/16/youtube-bans-bird-box-tide-pod-community-guidelines-strikes/.