Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body.

Our social media has cancer.

The Whats-App Momo Challenge is a site where kids are tricked into accessing a phone number.  A simple tap on the screen allows the site to instantly gain access to all the device’s private information including access to the device’s camera that is quietly recording the child. The site then starts sending ugly and violent images and messages to the child. It is reported that they mention the child’s family members, the child’s location, and, horribly, what the child is wearing and what they are doing at that moment.

That’s creepy enough, but what allegedly follows is sick.

The site then begins a series of dares and suggestions and threats that encourage the child to harm themselves… even to kill themselves.

Unless we go to this site and risk our own personal information getting hacked we don’t know the accuracy of all these stories. They may be more Creepypasta than truth. Still, The Momo Challenge is not the first, nor will it be the last of hackers’ attempts to steal information and privacy settings in a manner so aberrant as to encourage children to kill themselves.  Some of the designers of these cyber-traps truly want to injure kids, but the vast majority know this one disturbing truth: the more horrible the site, the more publicity it gets, and the larger the number of folks that will go to the site to see what’s up. Then their private information is stolen.

So our kids are the pawns in twisted, dark, and cancerous profiteering.

The children at highest risk of accessing and then proceeding into these sites are kids who are unsupervised, tired, and isolated.  It used to be that a small number of kids fit this description, but ever since we all became constantly plugged into our technology the numbers have increased. Parents who carefully supervise their children’s real-life activities and free time may not be as vigilant with their cyber-use.  There are many children who don’t sleep well because of the constant buzzes, dings and flashes of light coming from their devices.  The time we spend with others in real life has decreased nearly twenty percent since the advent of social media.

Clearly this stuff isn’t’ going away, in fact it is increasing daily. Clearly all our youth are at risk, because the dark side of the internet, like all cancers, does not care about the host’s age, race, sex, religion, wealth or status.  These sites weaken our kids through their high doses of trauma and despair.

The larger risk to our kids, family and community is that when we hear these horrific tales, real or exaggerated, we freeze. We feel overwhelmed. We feel powerless. We feel hopeless.

Our power as parents and as a community is to respond with strength.  We must educate ourselves and our kids about these cyber-cancers so they can avoid them.  This way they will be able to tell us if they have accessed these sorts of dark sites.  Then we can help them recover the same way we would for any real-life assault or illness.  We can inoculate them by making sure their devices are off at night, and by gathering with others as much as possible.

Let’s not panic… or ignore… let’s get CyberStrong.

Elizabeth Clark

About the Author

Elizabeth Clark has been a mental health therapist for teens and families for thirty years.  She is a presenter for CyberStrong, a collaborative community effort, funded by the Western Colorado Community Foundation, to raise awareness and give skills to parents and educators about the influence of technology on our children, families and community.