At the end of February 2019, the UK experienced a large moral panic about a fake story. It was rumoured that there was a ‘challenge’ targeted at children which encouraged them to harm themselves. This challenge was called Momo. It was a hoax. Yet schools sent out advice as to how to protect children from Momo, and even the BBC published warnings. For this episode we’re looking at moral panics and the internet to see if we can learn why this happened.
Warning – this episode does discuss themes of suicide. If you are in need of support please do contact the Samaritans on 116 123.
I’ve got 3 amazing guests with me for this episode. Gemma Gronland is a researcher at UCL, specializing in how public sector workers enact their duty to report children at risk of radicalization, which has at its heart questions around child protection and managing children’s online lives. Siddarth Venkataramakrishnan is an FT journalist by day and an internet subculture hunter at night, focussing on the extreme and the unusual. James Young is a documentary maker. His recent documentaries have appeared on BBC3; Can Robots Love Us? and Sex Robots & Us: The Future of Sex.
What is a moral panic?
Moral panics – periods of irrational fear and often hate towards a chosen group or object – are by no means modern, but the internet has transformed them: ironically, it’s both the object of multiple moral panics, and central to spreading them. Panics may be started by earnest but misled citizens, but often become tools for political power. And because moral panics usually deal with (grossly overstated) threats to children, they pose serious issues around safeguarding.
TWAAATS podcasts mentioned in the episode
Identity and the Alt-Right with Andrew Strait and Sid Venkataramakrishnan
Are You in a Relationship with a Machine? with Nika Mahnič and Tulsi Parida
Excellent Article by Joan Donovon in Buzzfeed
Moral panics and Ebola
I had a chat with Sid after we recorded the podcast to see if Ebola really wasn’t a moral panic. It was on the news a lot – and there were scares about women going abroad and not being able to get pregnant. I feel we went on a slight tangent with this one. However, Sid did say that Ebola wasn’t in the same league as other health cares like AIDs (which definitely contained an element of moralism).
We record these live. I try and speculate as little as possible, but I also try and ask questions that other people may be asking. Sometimes I get it wrong. I just can’t understand why some things spread like wildfire and the truth doesn’t. If we discuss this again I’ll make sure to get a psychologist on.
Have something to say?
As mentioned at the end of the podcast – I sometimes get great feedback on social networks about the podcasts I am on and produce. Please do get in contact if you like what we do – it really means the world! You can contact James on Twitter here, Sid on Twitter here and Gemma on Twitter here. I am on Twitter @alicelthwaite and my email is alice [at] twaaats [dot] com.