News of the ‘Momo challenge’ began making the rounds last year, and while many people have been warned of the threatening ‘game’, there’s actually little evidence to prove it’s real.
I’m sure you might’ve seen the horrific face often associated with Momo popping up recently online, with her bulging eyes and disturbing, stretched smile.
Admittedly the face attached to the ‘game’, created by Japanese artist Midori Hayashi – who’s in no way associated with the challenge – is kind of scary, but it looks like it’s a different story for the game itself.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the supposed ‘Momo challenge’, it’s a form of cyberbullying which spread over WhatsApp. Users could message an unknown number, and the mysterious Momo would reportedly respond with dangerous challenges – up to and including suicide – by threatening the WhatsApp user with violence.
Last year, it was rumoured ‘Momo’ was the cause of a 12-year-old girl’s suicide in Argentina, and while police suspected someone encouraged the girl to take her own life, iNews report police never confirmed a link between the child’s death and the challenge.
News of ‘Momo’ began making the rounds again recently as the creepy face reportedly began popping up in children’s YouTube videos, such as Peppa Pig, where children were supposedly encouraged to contact the WhatsApp number.
Of course, it’s good for adults to stay wary of what children are looking at on social media; it can be easier than you might imagine for unsuspecting youngsters to stumble upon something that’s not child-friendly, but the panic about the challenge seems to be over the top.
As news of the supposed game spreads, schools and authorities have issued warnings to parents, encouraging them to be vigilant about children’s social media habits.
While it’s obviously good advice, these warnings have in turn churned up more media stories in a vicious cycle which makes it seem as if ‘Momo’ is taking over the internet.
In reality, experts and charities have called the challenge a ‘moral panic’, The Guardian report. The UK Safer Internet Centre called claims about Momo ‘fake news’, and officials at YouTube said there’s been no evidence of videos showing or promoting the ‘Momo challenge’ on its platform.
Since Momo is going viral again, let’s remember the actual momo is a sculpture named Mother Bird by a talented artist in Japan, not an internet monster. pic.twitter.com/Bb9UmoKKKR
— 𝙼𝚎𝚠𝚢 (@baby_bruja) February 28, 2019
A spokesperson for the Samaritans told UNILAD why giving ‘Momo’ so much attention is dangerous:
Parents should be encouraged to be aware of dangers online and they should talk to their children about what they look at online, who they interact with, and so on. These conversations should be part of everyday life in the home.
What is unhelpful is focusing all this attention on a particular challenge or game and unverified reported links to suicides in relation to such games. Raising awareness of a particular game in this way does risk inadvertently promoting it to children and young people.
As the spokesperson suggests, the mass panic surrounding Momo could actually be the more harmful aspect of the whole situation, as it repeatedly raises the topic of suicide, potentially giving bullies or trolls a mask to hide behind. It could even lead some ‘daring’ children to search ‘Momo’ in an attempt to take part in the challenge.
While the Momo challenge itself might not be anything to worry about, it raises issues of a bigger picture regarding internet safety. It shouldn’t take the risk of a suicide challenge for parents to start monitoring their children’s social media usage, or to start speaking to young people about what they look at online.
Even with child protection settings in place, it’s possible certain sites or pop-ups could still get through. Kids might try to access online games on rogue sites, or be sent links on social media leading to inappropriate pages.
Children with social media profiles are vulnerable to receiving threatening or violent messages from anyone; it doesn’t necessarily have to be from Momo.
Teaching children about internet safety is just as important as trying to monitor what they look at, so they know what to avoid when browsing online.
The NSPCC offer useful tips for helping youngsters to stay safe online, which you can read here.
Talk about what might be OK for children of different ages. Ask your child what sites or apps they like. Write a list, and look at them together.
Be positive about what you see, but also be open about concerns you have: ‘I think this site’s really good’ or ‘I’m a little worried about things I’ve seen here’.
Their tips continue:
Talk to your child about what you think is appropriate – but also involve them in the conversation. Ask what they think is OK for children of different ages – they’ll feel involved in the decision-making.
Explain that you understand the internet is a great place to be and that you’re just looking out for them. Tell them they should speak up and not keep secrets if something is worrying them.
Momo can be used as a lesson for internet users everywhere; trends, real or not, can spread like wildfire, and the affects can be damaging in a number of ways.
It’s important for everyone to remain vigilant online, especially young children who are likely to be naive to the dangers of the internet. Parents should use issues raised by Momo as an opportunity to talk about internet safety with children, ensuring they know the best ways to stay safe online.
If you have any concerns about online safety, you can speak to experts from the free O2 & NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5002.
Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.