The dark side of the internet: how to stay safe

Ok, so our online utopia might be about online communities that are cushioned with bright and bubbly websites & connecting people from all over the globe, but the sad truth is, the internet can be a pretty dark place… if you know where to look.

While on the surface the web and social media are about connectivity, the internet is also riddled with hazards and even potential threats to not just your children, but for you as a parent and no one is immune.

The last two articles we published explained some of the popular online communities for children and teens, as well as some of the risks that your kids might not be divulging. Here’s a look at some of the more dangerous websites and social media dangers, as a parent, you wouldn’t want your children anywhere near – and as a generally sane person, you wouldn’t want anyone you know involved with.

The Dark Web

The Dark Web allows users to remain completely anonymous while online. That means no IP addresses can be tracked, there is no search history, and there are definitely no ‘cookies’ to worry about. Essentially, it’s a section of the internet that isn’t catalogued by search engines. The Dark Web requires an entirely separate browser to access. So, why is it so niche? Well, because most of its content is illegal.

Although the phrase ‘Dark Web’ sounds obscure and vague, surprisingly enough 90% of the internet isn’t actually catalogued through search engines, stored instead in the something called the ‘Deep Web’, which is easily accessible. Therefore, your child (or anyone, really) may simply be one accidental click away from an unpleasant  encounter. With the Dark Web being known for housing websites containing child pornography, human trafficking, drug and weapon dealings, it is best to be aware that this stuff is out there, deep in the multifaceted webs of the internet.

Speaking about the unknown, it actually takes a considerable amount of effort to access to these kind of websites. First there’s the Deep Web as mentioned before, which although sounding similar, simply includes all websites not indexed by search engines. This doesn’t necessarily mean illegal sites, but something more along the lines of websites from companies that only employees are authorised to access, internal newsletters for certain consumers, or someone’s private Google Drive documents.  It’s simply referring to going deeper into the internet.

Downloading a second, encrypted browser called ‘Tor’ (short for The Onion Router) can provide access to the Dark Web, where most of the encrypted and nefarious sites are hidden. While Tor itself can be used legitimately as a web browser, it is most often associated with criminal activity due to its built-in software allowing users to remain anonymous. Downloadable from a Google search in just a few clicks, anyone can access it. Many people actually use it in countries where they may not have the freedom of speech that we do in Australia. Despite this, your teen (hopefully) doesn’t have this struggle and shouldn’t feel the need to use it. If you discover your child is using this browser, it may be time to have a bit of a chat.

For more information on Tor and the Dark Web, you can access this article on BBC’s website, outlining the history of the browser and expert opinions.

The Momo Challenge

This is a sinister ‘challenge’ targeting teenagers through the popular messaging app, WhatsApp. Users are supposedly contacted by a user called ‘Momo’ and are then threatened to enact a series of gruesome tasks, with the final one being to commit suicide. Its avatar is based on a Japanese company called Link Factory’s sculpture, which is on display at Tokyo’s horror art Vanilla Factory.

Link Company’s original ‘Mother Bird’ sculpture on display, which has now been virtually distorted into ‘Momo’.

Refusal from victims to enact these dangerous tasks have reportedly resulted in threatening messages, along with with violent and gory images to frighten them into doing so. While we don’t believe “Momo” has been present in Australia, two teenage deaths have recently occurred in South America and Asia throughout this year. The origins and legitimacy of the Momo Challenge do have some inconsistencies, however, with no suicides directly linking to Momo. It is possible that this challenge is a hoax, embellished by the media like all else.

Authorities in relevant areas have been aware of the Momo Challenge as it gained mainstream awareness and police in relevant areas have made announcements on social media, informing children and teenagers to block any accounts contacting them if they claim to be ‘Momo’ or share the same avatar. It is important  to ensure your teen or child understands the importance of being safe online to avoid communicating with people they do not know. Education goes a long way in protecting your child – and we can’t stress enough – open those lines of communication and talk about these things.


Blue Whale Challenge

This challenge presents a similar threat to the Momo Challenge where participants are encouraged to harm themselves in a series of explicit trials. Much more personalised than the Momo Challenge, an ‘administrator’ or ‘instructor’ supposedly chooses a victim between 15-24 years old and provides them increasingly gruesome tasks based on their social media accounts and posts. The final task always results in the suicide of victim.

The challenge is allegedly initiated by social media users seeking out a ‘curator’ or instructor who assigns them a series of tasks over 50 days. A list of some of the challenges have been translated and posted on Reddit for the morbidly curious. The originator of the challenges, Philipp Budeikin, has been arrested for allegedly encouraging over 16 teen girls to participate and he claimed to be “cleansing society” from the “biological waste[s]” that were his victims.

Some of the tasks involve victims uploading evidence of completing them onto social media.

The frenzy is definitely there, but should you really worry? Despite the manic Blue Whale scare, an investigation by Radio Free Europe found that no suicides were actually linked directly to the game, similar to the Momo Challenge. It also addressed that these media induced suicide-panics are cyclical, with previous instances occurring as far back as 2006 and even the 1980s with Dungeons and Dragons. Although there were 130 reported teenage suicides in Russia (where the game originated) during the ‘Blue Whale’ panic, teen suicide is also very prevalent in Russia and these deaths may not be entirely attributed to the game.

So, is the Blue Whale Challenge actually real? Unfortunately that still remains unanswered. Although no one in Australia has fallen victim of the challenges (from all reports), it is important to ensure your child’s social media accounts all have the correct settings set to private for their own safety. This means that only friends see the posts they share on Facebook and that your child must approve each Instagram follower. Also ensure your child does not give out their phone number to people they don’t trust to avoid any form of threats, Blue Whale or not.

The “dark-side” of the internet is dangerous and can catch internet users off guard when they aren’t expecting it. The best way to ensure your children or those you care about don’t become victim to its malignant practices are to maintain caution and proper safety procedures, especially on social media. While the Dark Web may be something that is difficult to prevent your children from hearing about, informing them of its hazardous content is a start in getting them to understand that they need to think about their actions online.

Meanwhile, avoiding social media “challenges” like Momo or the Blue Whale (if they are indeed real) can be as simple as setting social media settings to private, making sure that only friends or approved followers can view posts and photos. Ask your teen to show you their privacy settings, start a conversation with them. Check in on them and inform them of the dangers of these challenges. Conversation is key, especially when such bleak subject matter may be plaguing the online hemisphere.

With FamilyEye by Yomojo, you can get idea of which apps your child is accessing – you can also manage screen time and block adult content to ensure safe browsing.

This can allow you to start the conversation with your children and educate them of the importance of staying safe online.

You can learn more about FamilyEye here.