Following a flurry of newspaper scare stories, some schools have warned parents about the “momo challenge” – but fact-checkers say it is a hoax.
The character, shown with bulging eyes, supposedly appears on WhatsApp and sets children dangerous “challenges” such as harming themselves.
But charities say there have been no reports of anybody receiving messages or harming themselves as a result.
They warn that media coverage 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’?
Earlier this week, versions of the momo story went viral on social media. They attracted hundreds of thousands of shares and resulted in newspaper articles reporting the tale.
According to the false story, children are contacted on WhatsApp by an account claiming to be momo. They are supposedly encouraged to save the character as a contact and then asked to carry out challenges as well as being told not to tell other members of their family.
Several newspaper articles claim the momo challenge had been “linked” to the deaths of 130 teenagers in Russia. The reports have not been corroborated by the relevant authorities.
The image of momo is actually a photo of a sculpture by Japanese special-effects company Link Factory. According to pop-culture website Know Your Meme, it first gained attention in 2016.
Fact-checking website Snopes warned that although the momo challenge was a hoax, the reports and warnings could still cause distress to children.
“The subject has generated rumours that in themselves can be cause for concern among children,” wrote David Mikkelson on the site.
Police in the UK have not reported any instances of children harming themselves due to the momo meme.
The charity Samaritans said it was “not aware of any verified evidence in this country or beyond” linking the momo meme to self-harm.
The NSPCC told the Guardian it had received more calls from newspapers than from concerned parents.
What should parents do?
Police have suggested that rather than focusing on the specific momo meme, parents could use the opportunity to educate children about internet safety, as well as having an open conversation about what children are accessing.
“This is merely a current, attention-grabbing example of the minefield that is online communication for kids,” wrote the Police Service of Northern Ireland, in a Facebook post.
Broadcaster Andy Robertson, who creates videos online as Geek Dad, said in a podcast that parents should not “share warnings that perpetuate and mythologise the story”.
“A better focus is good positive advice for children, setting up technology appropriately and taking an interest in their online interactions,” he said.
To avoid causing unnecessary alarm, parents should also be careful about sharing news articles with other adults that perpetuate the myth.
BY CRAIG CHARLES ON FEBRUARY 25, 2019 https://www.thatsnonsense.com
A number of messages and warnings across the Internet describe an apparent phenomenon called the “Momo Challenge”. Many such warnings claim it is a game where children are tricked into performing increasingly violent acts including self-harm, sometimes even culminating in suicide.
Many such warnings claim the “game” is spreading on social media apps including Facebook and WhatsApp. The game is usually illustrated by a wide eyed, dark haired woman with creepy facial features.
An example is below.
FUMING IS NOT THE WORD, PASS THIS ON So apparently there is a new thing called “the Momo challange” where this head thing is telling kids on YouTube to do dangerous stupid stuff. It starts with it coming out of an egg then develops in to hide and seek then moves on to more “fun stuff like” , turn the oven on, take pills, how to stab someone etc 😡 Your children will tell you this isn’t true as it threatens them not to say anything orels bad thing’s will happen to family members. Apparently its leaked on to kids YouTube and comes on half way through a video to avoid being caught by adults and scares your kids in to saying nothing but doing dangerous stuff. This has to be one of the most horrendous things iv ever seen. The face of it is a joke but the concept is horrendous. Would hate for this to happen to any of my friend’s and family. Until YouTube can 100% guarantee this is not a thing, there will be no more YouTube in this house.
Naturally the question many are asking – especially concerned parents – is whether the Momo Challenge is real, and should parents be alarmed?
The reality is that the Momo Challenge could be considered a number of different things, and whether it is real or something to be worried about largely depends on what you consider it to actually be in the first place.
“Momo” herself (or itself) isn’t real. It’s Internet folklore, rising up from the same murky corners of the Internet as other contemporary and passing crazes such as “Slenderman” and the very similar “Blue Whale”. The grotesque figure illustrating Momo is a sculpture, created by a Japanese special effects outfit called Link Factory. The figure is called “Mother Bird”, not “Momo”, and it’s got nothing to do with any sort of online challenge.
Additionally, there is no evidence that “Momo” can magically “hack” your phone, force her image to appear on your device or do any other sort of digital trickery, as claimed by many reports. There are no reports of “Momo” (or anyone purporting to be “Momo”) creeping into people’s rooms, or committing acts of murder for those that do not obey the “challenge”.
And there is no specific “challenge” either. There is no universal set list of tasks that those who engage in the “challenge” are told to do.
In this sense at least, Momo isn’t real. It isn’t a person, a monster, or any kind of individual hell bent on luring children or teenagers into committing acts of violence. There is no “Momo”, other than what we – and the Internet – make Momo out to be.
Taking a more pragmatic approach, while Momo isn’t real in the above sense, the Momo Challenge is a real phenomenon, perhaps most accurately described as somewhere between a viral prank, a media-fuelled alarmist craze and a potential form of cyber-bullying that should indeed be a genuine concern for parents.
It’s 90% Prank
If you come across Momo’s image, or references to her, on the Internet, it’s likely to be the prank side you’re seeing. Reports are commonplace that Momo has been “spotted” in Facebook groups, YouTube videos, in user-generated games such as Minecraft and Roblox as well as other corners of cyberspace.
But it’s unlikely that some obscure, ethereal being has infiltrated that part of the Internet looking for its next would-be victims. What you’re seeing is what the Internet does best. The proliferation of a prank. Keeping a craze alive. Scaring children, and needlessly alarming parents. For example, one thing we persistently notice after debunking viral “hacker” warnings on social media is that in the direct aftermath of the viral hoax, we see a surge of new social media accounts appear using the same name as the alleged hacker. The new accounts are not hackers, of course. Rather just pranksters cashing in on the popularity of the hoax.
Media fuelled craze
When it comes to clickbait, headlines don’t get better when discussing panic-inducing Internet challenges that have been ambiguously “linked” to teenage suicides. It’s the sort of headline that attracts clicks like a flame attracts moths. Which is why you’ll find no shortage of media outlets breathlessly warning parents to keep their children safe from Momo.
But in 2018, an Indian fact-check website investigated several cases of suicides in India and Argentina where local media had claimed the Momo Challenge was involved. In every case, police had either denied that the Momo Challenge played any part in the deaths and the link was erroneous, or that other more overriding factors (low school grades, depression, sexual abuse) had played a more significant role.
A form of cyber-bullying
While media are often quick to report on vague “links” between suicides and Internet crazes, phenomena like the Momo Challenge can serve a real purpose in that they can demonstrate the inherent dangers of allowing children and young teens to use the Internet unsupervised.
Whether it’s the dangers of being exposed to mature content, the dangers associated with connecting with strangers or the danger of cyber-bullying, the Momo Challenge serves as a timely reminder that the Internet can be a dangerous place for both young and vulnerable minds.
Protecting your children as they use the Internet is paramount. This includes supervising what they see, blocking or preventing access to platforms that contain adult content, educating children on popular Internet threats, teaching them not to give away their personal information and perhaps most importantly encouraging an open dialogue where parents and children can be honest about what they encounter when using the Internet.
It is this approach that will best protect kids when using the Internet, and that encompasses passing crazes like Momo, and whatever her successor will be.
An opportunity for scammers?
Scammers and cyber-crooks will always looking for ways to exploit viral trends, and the Momo Challenge isn’t likely to be any different. Crooks may use search trends (people looking for information concerning Momo) to lure visitors to booby trapped websites, or may use the guise of Momo to trick victims into handing over sensitive information that may result in someone falling for a cyber scam such as identity theft.
Fake blackmail sextortion scams are increasingly common. Typically, sextortion scammers send out thousands or even millions of identical emails claiming that they have captured video of the recipient visiting a porn site. The scammers threaten to send the compromising video to all of the recipient’s contacts if they do not receive a “keep quiet” payment via Bitcoin. But, the scammers have not created a compromising video. Nor have they hijacked the recipient’s contact list. The whole thing is a bluff. However, the scammers know that at least a few recipients will be panicked into sending the requested money. To increase their chances of success, the scammers use a variety of dirty tricks to convince potential victims that the claims in their fake blackmail messages are true.
Email Spoofing Trick
One such trick is to make it appear that the email was sent from your OWN account thereby supposedly proving that they have indeed compromised your device as claimed.
Here’s an example from a typical scam email:
Your account has been hacked by me in the summer of this year.I understand that it is hard to believe, but here is my evidence:
– I sent you this email from your account.
– Password from account [email address removed]: [password removed] (on moment of hack).
If you look at the sender address of the email, it will display YOUR email address. So, it may seem that the sender has indeed broken into your account to send the email. But the scammer has simply forged the header of the email so that your email address appears as the sender. This is a technique known as “spoofing’ and is not difficult to do. In other words, the email did not come from your account at all. It just looks that way because of the forged email headers.
Other Dirty Tricks
As I discuss in more detail in another report, the scammers often include user passwords in their scam emails as a way of making their false claim seem more plausible. And, in another variation, the scammers include the recipient’s phone number along with the password. The scammers are extracting passwords and phone numbers from old data breaches and automatically matching them to the corresponding email address. They can then distribute vast numbers of emails that are identical except for the password and phone number that matches each email.
Don’t Respond — Just Hit “Delete”
If you receive one of these scam emails, don’t be fooled. By including real passwords and real phone numbers, and making it appear that the recipient’s account sent the message, the scammers significantly increase the likelihood that their claims will be taken seriously. More people will fall for the ruse and send their money to the criminals. But, despite these clever tricks, the emails are still just empty bluffs. To reiterate, the sender has not hacked your computer and has not created a compromising video of you.
Don’t respond. Just hit the “delete” key.