The story of Forky or how YouTubers make money with fear
- Austrian Safer Internet Centre
A spoon or a fork? In Toy Story 4, "Forky" is a sympathetic figure, but was recently used by prominent YouTubers to spark fear among children.
In Austria, primary school children have reported a new trend spread by YouTube influencers. A seemingly harmless figure from the movie "Toy Story 4" appears in videos and spreads fear. The plot is well-known, figures appearing on YouTube to tell creepy stories are a common phenomenon on the platform. This works well with younger children (aged 7-10), because they have difficulties assessing the truthfulness of the content.
YouTubers tie into current trends, using them to draw attention to their channel. This requires content which children watch repeatedly; using creepy videos is an easy tool for that purpose. Children watch videos again to cope with their feelings, hence such videos generate millions of views within a few days or even hours.
YouTubers copy each other – in the German-speaking context, they often replicate trends from influencers based in the United States, or from videos published on less famous YouTube channels. The content and the stories are interchangeable. In the past, the frightening figure was "Momo" or the "Game Master" – now, it's "Forky". The figure is ascribed the power to control YouTubers. Some undefined danger is raised, and the protagonists of the video prove their courage in facing the risk: for instance, they dare call a certain number at three o'clock in the morning and start a video chat with the creepy figure.
Take the fear of children seriously
It is the third time in 2019 that YouTubers – often the same channels – use a media or internet figure to make money from the fear of children. To debunk these horror stories, parents need to be aware that it is the same creepy plot happening over and over again, with changing protagonists. Most children today no longer believe in the Gamemaster – the hype has passed. Parents can build on this knowledge while still taking the fears of children seriously.
Taking the feelings of children seriously is important. Parents may also try fun ways to cope with fears; for example, "Forky" is easy to replicate. Finally, adults may hope that children will use this experience to be better prepared for the next creepy YouTube figure, because one thing is sure: Forky will not be the last trick to frighten children online.
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Find out more information about the work of the Austrian Safer Internet Centre (SIC) generally, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.
- UK Safer Internet Centre
In February 2019, the "Momo Suicide Challenge" caused worry in homes and schools across the United Kingdom. Fuelled by sensationalist headlines and misinformation on social media, the hoax quickly escalated into a moral panic with parents fearing for the safety of their children.