In recent weeks, a new hoax has circulated the internet and has sowed fear among parents and school administrators around the world. The hoax, called the ‘Momo Challenge,’ features a doll-like character with bulging eyes supposedly appears in the text-messaging app, WhatsApp, to compel children to do dangerous ‘challenges’ which includes harming themselves and setting their home in a fire.
The Guardian reports that charities have clarified that these scare stories about the Momo Challenge are ‘fake news’ and that there are no actual reports of children receiving messages from Momo.
As BBC reports, The Guardian has warned that the media coverage of the supposed Momo and her challenges to children has amplified a false scare story.
“News coverage of the momo challenge is prompting schools or the police to warn about the supposed risks posed by the momo challenge, which has, in turn, produced more news stories warning about the challenge,” said the Guardian media editor Jim Waterson.
WHAT IS MOMO CHALLENGE?
According to the BBC report, there are different versions of the Momo story. A doll-like image with scary eyes has said to contact children and force them to save momo as a contact. The contact will soon start to send the child with challenges that they should complete and orders children not to tell anyone from their family. Another version of the story says that ‘hackers’ make the image of momo appear unexpectedly in children’s phone screen.
Furthermore, unofficial video clips of children’s favorite TV show, ‘Peppa Pig’, have been edited to show the video of momo randomly in the middle of the video telling children to carry specific tasks.
However, according to the UK Safe Internet Centre, these stories are ‘fake news.’ And YouTube has denied that these videos are existing in their platform as it is a violation of their Terms of Service.
A story is also circulating Facebook groups that the Momo Challenge is linked to the deaths of 300 teenagers in Russia. However, no evidence to corroborate this claim was ever produced. This story is weirdly similar to the 2013 Blue Whale hoax linking 130 deaths of teens in Russia without any evidence.
The image of Momo is a photo of a Japanese special effects company Link Factory.
WHERE DID IT ALL START?
According to the pop-culture website, Know Your Meme, the image of momo has started to gain attention since 2016. However, the issue was amplified when a mother heard a story from his son at school and warned her contacts on a Facebook group for residents of Westhoughton, a small Lancashire town at the edge of Bolton. What once started as an anecdote from a little boy, has now grown into a global panic-inducing story.
The Guardian reports that the Momo phenomenon is a ‘moral panic’ spread by adults.
Amid the fact that no report has been verified regarding the risk of Momo to children, police officers and school authorities have warned parents about the so-called Momo Challenge and to secure their children when using the internet.
Although there is no actual harm that the ‘challenge’ has caused, The Guardian warns that “the ensuing media hysteria could now be putting vulnerable people at risk by encouraging them to think of self-harm.”
The charity Samaritan has also said: “These stories being highly publicized and starting a panic means vulnerable people get to know about it and that creates a risk.” They recommended media outlets read their guidelines on reporting suicide and suggested press coverage is “raising the risk of harm.”
“Currently we’re not aware of any verified evidence in this country or beyond linking Momo to suicide,” said the Samaritans spokesperson. “What’s more important is parents and people who work with children concentrate on broad online safety guidelines.”
FEEDBACK LOOP: MEDIA REPORTS, PEOPLE RESPOND, MEDIA REPORTS THAT PEOPLE RESPOND
According to the UK Safe Internet Centre, the rumor mill appears to have created a feedback loop, where the news agencies are reporting about it, prompting the police and school officials to release advisories about Momo, generating more news for the media to report. And so on.
Tremlett said she was now hearing of children who are “white with worry” as a result of media coverage about a supposed threat that did not previously exist.
“It’s a myth that is perpetuated into being some kind of reality,” she said.
“We almost need to stop talking about the issue for it to not be an issue anymore.”
Child safety campaigners, on the other hand, have said the Momo hoax has opened a conversation on legitimate concerns about online child safety, the sharing of unverified material on local Facebook groups, and officials comments of police and school authorities based on little hard evidence.
Experts urged everyone to stop proliferating the issue and to put a stop on the rumors because it may not be true, but it can the panic brought by it can cause real problems. /apr
New York Moves To Rule Out Religious Exemption For Vaccines
In the face of the worst measles outbreak in the country within the past 25 years, New York has decided to make necessary immunizations in schoolchildren, citing that religious exemption to vaccinizations can no longer be accepted.
In the past, legislation has allowed parents to reason against vaccines due to religious reasons. They have cited that it is their religious freedom to opt out of the science-based system in exchange for their beliefs.
The decision was made Thursday with a Democrat-led Senate and Assembly. The decision has made all schoolchildren take the first round of immunization shots—for those who have opted out—as a requirement before enrollment.
Furthermore, schoolchildren wishing to enroll in the upcoming school year are given up to 30 days to complete the first dose of each required immunization.
The newly-signed measure was met with mixed reactions from the hundreds of people who flocked the streets of New York. Some expressed that it was about time that the government had taken legislative action towards addressing the measles outbreak given that the problem is spiraling out of control. Moreover, some cited that religious beliefs have been used as a counter-action to opt out from vaccinations, which are due to rampant misinformation regarding the vaccine to cause other side effects.
Meanwhile, anti-vaxxers have complained against the measure citing that their religious freedom is being taken away by the vague impression that public health is in a state of fear due to measles.
New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who signed the measure told reporters that he believes public health — and the need to protect those who cannot get vaccinated because for medical reasons — outweighs the concerns about religious freedom.
“I understand freedom of religion,” he said. “I have heard the anti-vaxxers’ theory, but I believe both are overwhelmed by the public health risk.”
Bronx Democrat Jeffrey Dinowitz, the bill’s Assembly sponsor added, “I’m not aware of anything in the Torah, the Bible, the Koran or anything else that suggests you should not get vaccinated.” Moreover, “If you choose to not vaccinate your child, therefore potentially endangering other children … then you’re the one choosing not to send your children to school.”
On the other hand, New York is not completely absolving reasons to opt out of vaccinations. Particularly, the government will still allow children to skip taking the required shots for reasons citing medical concerns (some people are medically compromised and cannot take vaccines or immunizations due to risks from detrimental side effects.) These people can be those with compromised immune systems such as HIV or those who are allergic to said medications, to name a few.
Recently, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported an alarmingly increasing number of measles cases in the United States — gaining the highest incidence for the past 25 years.
Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported about 971 cases of measles in 26 states in the US from January 1 to May 30 of this year — threatening the nation’s elimination status.
The report also indicated that the spike in measles outbreaks was centered in hotspots such as Washington and New York. Also, since the disease is common among children, most of the cases reported are from unvaccinated school-age children.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told BBC that “If these outbreaks continue through summer and fall, the United States may lose its measles elimination status. That loss would be a huge blow for the nation and erase the hard work done by all levels of public health.”
The issue is also magnified with misinformation that is being widely spread against the measles vaccine—which prompted Facebook to finally take action and try to mitigate false information that is widespread across its platform.
“These Groups and Pages will not be included in recommendations or predictions when you type into Search,” Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of global policy management, said in a statement. She added that when ads that include misinformation about vaccinations are found, “we will reject them.”
With New York’s move, similar exemptions are still allowed in 45 states, though lawmakers in several of them have introduced their own legislation to eliminate the waiver.
California removed personal belief vaccine exemptions for children in both public and private schools in 2015. Maine ended its religious exemption earlier this year. Mississippi and West Virginia also do not allow religious exemptions.
13 Police Officers Sue San Francisco For Racial and Gender Discrimination
Twelve white police officers and a white lesbian former police officer are suing the state of San Francisco for cases involving gender and racial discrimination against white police officers applying for promotions. The argument is led by a lieutenant whose similar suit 16 years ago netted a $1.6 million settlement.
The case is alleging that the current selection process is discriminatory against white police officers. Specifically, it is accusing the test-scoring and “banding” method of the San Francisco police force to determine eligible applicants for promotion.
All thirteen officers are alleging that they were denied opportunities for promotions due to the current system unfairly favoring minorities such as people of color, women, and other minorities.
The lawsuit reported Wednesday was filed Tuesday at a federal court accusing the city of San Francisco, the Police Department, the Police Commission, Mayor London Breed, former Mayor Mark Farrell, Police Chief Bill Scott, and former Chief Greg Suhr.
The lead plaintiff, Lt. Ric Schiff is leveraging the latest discrimination case against San Francisco with a 2003 lawsuit that he also led in behalf of twelve sergeants who accused the police force of discriminating in favor of black candidates for lieutenant. Schiff was denied a promotion to captain in support of women and minority candidates with lower scores, the suit said.
The 2003 lawsuit was settled by the city for $1.6 million, giving $200,000 to Schiff, who was later promoted to lieutenant. However, the city did not acknowledge any wrongdoing.
The 2019 case, which is seemingly rooted from white privilege, stands on the basis of a 1979 settlement over a racial discrimination suit filed by the Black Police Officer’s Association.
In 1973, a group called the Officers for Justice with almost all members were black, filed a lawsuit against the SFPD alleging that it has engaged in a pattern of employment discrimination based on race, sex, and national origin.
“As the suit dragged through the courts, it picked up support from the National Organization for Women, Chinese for Affirmative Action and the League of United Latin American Citizens. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People joined the quit soon after it was filed, and the United States Department of Justice filed a separate action, which was merged with the original suit for trial,” reported in a 1979 article from The New York Times.
Consent Decree settled the lawsuit—a litigation remedy past discrimination cases—in 1979 declaring that the then rules and selection criteria for employment at the SFPD were illegal which included written examinations, minimum height requirements, and the strength test.
Moreover, the 1979 ruling included provisions such as: “Promotion policies will be changed to facilitate [the] movement of minority members and women into command positions” and “in recruiting women and minority members, the city must take advice from organizations that represent them and must advertise in media directed at these recruits.”
As a result, “the court upheld banding as a psychometrically sound procedure and [is] valid as a matter of constitutional and federal law,” cited from Test-Score Banding in Human Resource Selection by Herman Aguinis.
Banding allowed the SFPD to employ and promote individuals by ‘banding’ or grouping promotional test results so that all candidates who scored within a specific range were treated the same, allowing them to be judged on other factors such as experience and language skills.
However, with the current provision emphasizing on the prioritization of applicants from minority groups has left an unfair advantage against white police officers.
Aguinis in his book notes on banding says that “cases typically involve plaintiffs who sue because they believe testing is unfair either to a minority group or individuals. On occasion, majority-group members sue because they do not see an attempt to reduce [the] adverse impact as fair to majority-group applicants. It is an anomaly that banding is proposed as an alternative selection procedure that benefits minority plaintiffs, but in some cases, minority-group members actually object to banding and view it as discriminatory.”
“The city — to this day — has a long-standing practice and custom of discriminating against white males in SFPD promotions to the rank of sergeant, lieutenant, and captain,” M. Greg Mullanax, the officers’ attorney said in the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, John Coté, a spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said the Police Department “uses lawful, merit-based civil service examinations in making promotions.” The system, he said in a statement, is “designed to provide qualified individuals with the chance for advancement while ensuring fair treatment without regard to race, gender, religion, age or other status.”
Adani Mine Plans Receive Queensland Government Approval
The Queensland environment department has officially signed on Adani Mine’s plans to manage groundwater on and around the company’s Galilee Basin mine site amidst on-going issues regarding safety end environmental concerns.
The latest decision comes after massive public outcry against Adani’s plans of constructing a coal mine in central Queensland. Environmentalists and water experts pointed out that the mine could result to permanently drying up an ancient springs complex, and have dire effects on the health of the Carmichael River. Moreover, the approval comes after intense pressure on the Queensland government after the public addressed that it was a rushed decision before federal elections.
In a statement, however, the Queensland Department of Environment and Science said its decision had been based on a “rigorous” assessment. “Adani submitted its most recent version of the plan, addressing the department’s feedback, yesterday,” the department said. “The assessment has been based on the best available science,” they added.
Queensland granted Adani a water license that allows its mine unlimited access to groundwater for 60 years.
Adani will now begin construction on its future mine site. Particularly, land-clearing and road access development. But Adani will still need to secure other federal environmental approvals before it can begin extracting coal from the location. At the moment, Adani still needs to obtain eight more compliance from different sectors.
Australia is no stranger to coal mining corporations, especially Queensland, who’s abundant with coal resources within its domain. Specifically, Carmichael is the most viable source of coal in the Galilee Basin.
The Galilee Basin is about the size of Victoria and contains one of the world’s largest untapped deposits of thermal coal — the type used to make electricity.
The mine, which is proposed by Adani Mining (a subsidiary of India’s Adani Group), is meant to establish its coal mine but poses environmental concerns such as the impact on water at the Doongmabulla Springs, a wetland desert oasis.
The fundamental concern involves contamination of nearby rivers, lakes, and aquifers by what comes out of a coal mine—usually highly acidic water containing heavy metals like arsenic, copper, and lead. Particularly for Andani, it could seep through nearby aquifers supplying the springs.
Water is an essential resource during coal extraction; in fact, it ensures a safe extraction process. According to mining industry data, companies use 800-3000 gallons of water to mine and process and transport one ton of coal. According to the US Geological Survey, 410 billion gallons of water are withdrawn from rivers, lakes, streams, and aquifer each day in the U.S.
Specific in Australia, such supplies account for nearly a third of our total water consumption, according to Geoscience Australia. Competitors for the water to be used by the Adani mine include local towns and the region’s farmers.
“The state government notes that [Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation] CSIRO and Geoscience Australia both raised concerns about the groundwater impacts. (The state government had been asking their federal counterparts for the CSIRO report for a month – only to receive it less than half an hour before Minister Price announced her approval,” says The Sydney Morning Herald.
Adani is set to take immediate actions towards the recent approval. However, hydrologists from four Australian universities issued a joint report earlier this week, saying Adani’s water science was “severely flawed”.
According to their analysis on Adani’s water solution, it could potentially lead to permanently drying the Doongmabulla Springs Complex, 8km from the edge of Adani’s mining lease.
Tom Crothers, a former general manager for water allocation and planning in the Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management, also emphasized that the state government had no clue what the cumulative impact would be if the Adani mine and eight others planned for the Galilee basin went ahead.
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