BY CRAIG CHARLES ON FEBRUARY 25, 2019
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.