If you have been following the news, you may have heard of Momo, recent cyberscare in which a phantom hacker is deliberately targeting your child by hijacking children’s content in an effort to intimidate them into self-harm.
Yorkton This Week has learned a five-year-old child recently attempted to choke themselves to death with the string of a Yo-Yo as a result of being instructed by the Momo character.
It works thusly:
The hacker monitors children’s content, then identifies random viewers on the Youtube Kids app and hijacks the video feed with a scary image of a terrifying ‘chicken lady’ face with bulging eyes, directly telling the child through the screen to do harmful things, such as stabbing themselves in the neck, turn on the stove, kill themselves or their parents, and report back to the anonymous hacker which has an untraceable line.
If the child does not comply, they are then threatened while being bombarded with disturbing imagery intended to force compliance.
More chilling still is that the hackers appear to be monitoring the device and seem to know when parents are not in the room. Police forces around the world have been investigating. RCMP detachments in Kelowna, BC and St. John, New Brunswick. have also issued general communications in regard to the Momo scare.
Locally, the Yorkton detachment notes no local complaints to RCMP have been filed, other detachments are warning parents to be on the lookout for it.
Cpl. Jennifer Clarke, of the St. John RCMP detachment says she understands how a child would be scared.
“We are asking parents to talk about it with their kids and not to share it,” Cpl. Clarke said.
Cpl. Clarke also stressed that people that ask anyone to complete tasks that are criminal in nature could be arrested and face charges.
Const. Lesley Smith.of the Kelowna RCMP also stresses vigilance.
“We encourage all parents to teach their children when to block, delete or report disturbing images or videos that they may encounter online.”
The five year old child in Yorkton influenced by the Momo video has suffered rug burns around his neck after attempting to choke himself to death with the Yo-Yo cord.
Melissa, the parent of the child in question, was able to intervene in time to save her son Jackson’s life, but she says lasting damage has been done and the child is currently undergoing psychiatric treatment, while under supervision by a social worker.
“He was a very typical five year old -- super active, happy. Stable home, no unhealthy exposure to anything,” Melissa said.
“We had a daughter in July and in August, we started noticing behaviour changes. The behaviours involved self-harm on two different occasions.”
The first occasion was the Yo-yo strangulation.
“There was also some talk of a ‘chicken lady’ coming, and she was going to come at 3 am and kill him and kill his parents. Bedtime became increasingly harder and basically, he didn’t want to go to sleep.”
The chilling phenomena has also affected the hacking of the official Peppa Pig website, among others. Momo also appears inserted into the middle of otherwise innocuous looking children’s videos in order to avoid detection.
That wasn’t the end of it for Melissa and her young son, however.
“I asked him to describe the chicken lady to me and he described her as black hair black eyes, and I Googled ‘Youtube chicken lady. Nothing popped up.
“We sought professional help for him because people were suggesting, ‘You know, maybe it’s adjusting to the transition of having a new baby in the house’. We kind of felt that was what the behaviour might be coming from, so as I said I googled this ‘chicken lady’ but nothing came up. I wasn’t really sure what he was referring to.”
However, the penny eventually dropped.
“A few nights ago I was scrolling through my Facebook, and another mom had posted an article she shared of another mom that had said ‘Be on the lookout for this ‘Momo’ creature. It’s in kids’ YouTube videos and hidden in videos that seem harmless.
Melissa continued her sleuthing. And then she found the image.
“As soon as I saw the image I immediately thought of the chicken lady creature that he was referring to -- it was exactly as he described. I knew immediately this is what he saw.”
She needed to know for sure.
“I was debating whether or not I was going to bring it up with Jackson
“I made the decision about a month ago to completely cut off YouTube access for him and I saw a complete shift. Since I’ve done so, he’s been a lot more calm. Even his social worker has mentioned that.
“But unfortunately, the trauma is already there.
“He’s already saw [sic] the videos. He’s already been exposed to it. So we can only monitor going forward; we can’t change what he already saw.”
“I made the decision to sit down with Jackson and I said, ‘I have to ask you something very serious, and I need you to let mum know the truth. I you have anything you’d like to talk about with mommy you need to tell me now.”
Melissa then showed Jackson the picture.
“Immediately his body went completely rigid and he started to cry and put his face in his hands.”
“ ‘No, mom, that’s the chicken lady. Don’t look at her!”
Melissa says that she wants the public to know that this is very real, and that parents should keep an eye on what their children are doing at all times.
“I thought that my kids watching YouTube kids would be safe with the parental restriction,” she said.
“But it’s not the case.”
Yorkton RCMP issued a communication Friday evening with tips for families to stay safe online.
Those tips include;
• Be careful of giving out too much personal information and remember that the information that you put on your profile can be seen by everyone, even if your account/profile is set to private. Your personal information/image(s) may be used in ways that you never intended.
• Photos posted online are not private property and anything you upload online can be shared by others, potentially with thousands of people, within hours of your posting. It’s also easy to alter an image using photo editing software.
• Remember that once you post something online, you can’t control who that information is shared with – and removing it from wherever you posted it doesn’t
permanently remove it from the internet.
• Tell someone, like a parent, guardian or trusted adult, if something online is making you concerned or uncomfortable. Your safety is important and an adult will be able to provide you with guidance.
Here are a few reminders for parents and guardians:
• Take an interest in what your children are doing online.
• Talk openly with your children about online safety and educate them on the risks of online interactions.
• Make sure the protection features of websites and software your children use are activated. There are tools available through your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to help you manage your children’s online experience (i.e. appropriate websites, amount of time spent online, who can and cannot contact them). It might also include other security features, such as pop-up ad blockers.
• Get to know the online environments your children use and teach them how to deal with inappropriate material.
• Stay in the know about the latest ways children are communicating and what they’re up to when they’re at friends’ houses.
• Keep an eye on the sites they’re visiting by keeping the computer in a common area like the kitchen.
• Report anything suspicious or concerning that your child encounters online - contact your local police service or RCMP Detachment