Be warned, YouTube creators: Making videos about the latest viral hoax, the “Momo challenge,” will not make you money. Over the past couple of days, the Momo challenge has gone viral once again, leading to a sharp increase in news coverage and the number of YouTube videos discussing the topic of the creepy character and the supposed “challenge” that encourages kids to commit acts of self-harm.
The Momo challenge itself isn’t real, to be clear.
As meticulously documented by Taylor Lorenz at The Atlantic, it’s just the latest resurgence of an urban myth that has reared its head repeatedly over the years. In reality, “Momo” was a sculpture created by the artist Keisuke Aisawa. Photographs of its frightening form made their way to Instagram and Reddit after being exhibited in Tokyo a couple of years ago. Thus, an urban legend was born, Lorenz explained.
According to one version of the myth, Momo sends kids instructions to harm themselves on WhatsApp. But urban legends take on many variations over time.
For example, my child’s entire third grade class currently believes that Momo will randomly appear in YouTube videos and then come out of your sink drain. (This, also, is not true!)
Over the past few days, a social media post from Kim Kardashian and a lot of irresponsible reporting by local news outlets amplified the hoax, warning parents and schools of the dangerous “self harm” challenge. That, in turn, led to more “Momo” videos on YouTube, and a flood of posts across all other social media sites.
The Verge reported this morning that YouTube had begun demonetizing Momo videos on YouTube.
However, a spokesperson at YouTube clarified to TechCrunch that it wasn’t taking action against Momo videos as some sort of new policy or decision on the company’s part. It was simply enforcing its current policies.
The company’s existing advertiser-friendly guidelines, which govern the kinds of videos on which it shows ads, do not allow to be monetized any videos that discuss a harmful or dangerous act. That includes any videos from news outlets referencing the Momo challenge, or those from other YouTube creators. This is the same policy that prevented from showing advertising prior YouTube videos about other dangerous challenges and hoaxes, they also noted. For example, any video about the Tide Pods challenge or the choking challenge could not show ads.
Demonetizing videos, to be clear, is not the same thing as disallowing the videos from showing on YouTube. The site today permits news stories and videos that are intended to raise awareness of and educate against the challenge, the spokesperson explained — like those from news outlets.
However, content that promotes the Momo challenge that is not news, educational or documentary footage is prohibited on the site.
YouTube additionally reaffirmed that the company hadn’t seen any evidence of Momo videos on its platform until widespread media coverage began. And it had not received any links flagged or otherwise shared with the company about videos that either showed or promoted the Momo challenge directly.
“Contrary to press reports, we’ve not received any recent evidence of videos showing or promoting the Momo challenge on YouTube. Content of this kind would be in violation of our policies and removed immediately,” YouTube said, in a statement.
In addition, no Momo videos should be discoverable on YouTube’s kid-friendly app, YouTube Kids, the spokesperson said. And no such content has ever been found in the YouTube Kids app, to date.
Though YouTube hasn’t implemented a new policy here, simply having its name in the press around unsafe, scary content targeting children comes at a bad time for the company, which only yesterday turned off comments on videos of children after reports of a pedophile ring operating within the comments sections of videos. And it’s the latest in a longer string of controversies around advertiser-unfriendly content and false information, which has led to other changes around its policies, including, most recently, the demonetization of anti-vaccination videos.
But in the case of Momo, YouTube isn’t the only platform afflicted by the hoax — the topic is being discussed across social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.