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Riverhead superintendent discusses ‘momo challenge’ in letter to parents

Riverhead Superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez sent a letter to parents discussing the potentially harmful social media challenge known as “the Momo Challenge” that has generated concern among parents across the nation in recent weeks.

Momo, which has been deemed a viral hoax since it began to generate headlines across multiple media outlets, is a supposed form of cyberbullying on WhatsApp, YouTube and video games like Fortnite and Minecraft, where users receive threatening, anonymous messages and images, Ms. Henriquez said in the letter Friday. Users are then asked to carry out “challenges” involving violence or self-harm, without telling family members about the tasks.

Despite making headlines, there is little proof of harmful rhetoric or pictures associated with the challenge actually existing.

YouTube issued a statement about the challenge Wednesday and declared that no recent evidence of videos promoting the challenge have been found on the platform.

“Videos encouraging harmful and dangerous challenges are against our policies,” a tweet from the platform said.

Ms. Henriquez said regardless of the validity of the challenge, parents should speak with their children about internet safety and monitor social media and internet use.

“As a parent of two young children myself, I understand the challenges you’re facing,” she wrote. “We want our children to embrace technology and the benefits it provides our society while also being mindful of the potential dangers.”

The superintendent provided parents with a pamphlet on digital parenting from the Family Online Safety Institute.

“As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me or any other administrator,” she wrote.

Following media outcry, YouTube has taken recent action against creators who cause harm to the community and are disabling comments on videos featuring minors and launching a new comment classification system.

The Momo Challenge is not the first such viral phenomenon. In 2016, the similar “Blue Whale Challenge” made headlines, a social media “game” that targeted teens and allegedly promoted self-harm and suicide.

Ms. Henriquez also sent a letter to parents Friday elaborating on the lockdown Tuesday that resulted in a 16-year-old student’s arrest.

She said the district will review its response and make any adjustments to the security plan as needed. She said when the threat first emerged, all schools went into an immediate lockout. Within minutes, the high school switched to a lockdown once the threat was pinpointed to that building.

“I firmly believe the decisions that we made on Tuesday were necessary to ensure the safety of all within our buildings,” she wrote.

Read the entire letter here.

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