A serious warning has been issued in response to a ‘suicide challenge’ that is spreading on Whatsapp.
‘Momo’ is the name of a social media account which has profiles on Facebook and Whatsapp. The picture used to represent Momo is terrifying enough in itself – a woman with straggling hair, bulging eyes and wide slit smile.
The Momo game apparently began on Facebook. The Computer Crime Investigation Unit of the State of Tabasco, Mexico, posted to Twitter about the disturbing challenge, explaining what it was.
The tweet read (translated):
It all started in a Facebook group where participants were challenged to start communicating with an unknown number
Several users said that if they sent a message to Momo on their cell phone, the response came with violent and aggressive images, and some say they had messages answered with threats.
They also explained the risks of the game, saying:
The risk of this challenge among young people and minors is that criminals can use it to steal personal information, incite suicide or violence, harass, extort and generate physical and psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression and insomnia.
Since the challenge’s inception, it has gained various different phone numbers and has been reported in Mexico, Argentina, the US, France, and Germany. The unidentified figure seems to target young people.
The messages always appear to be unpleasant, with some ordering the person to do things as part of the ‘game’, and threatening the victim if they don’t obey.
According to the Buenos Aires Times, police are linking the disturbing game to the death of a 12-year-old girl in Argentina. They are looking for the person behind ‘Momo’, but are having trouble singling them out.
The young girl devastatingly hung herself in the back garden of her home in Ingeniero Maschwitz after filming a video. Her mobile phone was found nearby, and police suspect someone encouraged her to take her own life.
In a statement, police said:
The phone has been hacked to find footage and WhatsApp chats, and now the alleged adolescent with whom she exchanged those messages is being sought.
The police also believe the girl’s intention ‘was to upload the video to social media as part of a challenged aimed at crediting the Momo game’.
The face of Momo belonged to a work of art by Japanese artist Midori Hayashi, who is not associated with the game at all. The picture was apparently lifted from the internet in order to portray Momo.
The National Police of Spain released a warning on Twitter to anyone who might come across Momo.
The tweet read (translated):
It is better to ignore absurd challenges that come in the fashion in WhatsApp.
Do not go into ‘Momo’! If you record the number on your calendar, you will see a strange woman’s face, it’s the latest WhatsApp viral to come in vogue among teenagers.
1- Birçok çocuğun intihar etmesine neden olan Mavi Balina oyunundan sonra bu sefer de ‘Momo’ adlı yeni bir oyun ortaya çıktı. WhatsApp üzerinden yayılan oyun gençlere şiddet içerikli fotoğraflar ve tehdit içeren mesajlar gönderiyor. pic.twitter.com/Rk20iLsH7s
— Zet Lorento (@Zetgel24) July 31, 2018
According to the BBC, Rodrigo Nejm of the NGO Safernet has advised some things parents can do to help make their children aware of the dangers of talking to strangers online, and help them avoid getting into any unsafe situations.
Urban legends have always existed, and with the Internet this has not changed. Criminals take advantage to surf this wave.
Parents should advise their children that it is another blow and make it clear to them that it is important to protect their personal data on the internet.
Having mastery of the device does not mean having the maturity to recognise dangerous situations.
Momo shares disturbing similarities with the Blue Whale game that emerged in Russia last year.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, and want to speak to someone in confidence, please don’t suffer alone. Call Samaritans for free on their anonymous 24-hour phone line on 116 123.
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.