E-Safety

Momo Challenge

Steven Welding, London Borough of Sutton e-Safety Advisor, has circulated the following information for parents regarding the Momo Challenge:

Momo is essentially a hoax, but it is horrific, it’s sensationalised by the media and parents are understandably spreading cautionary advise, which unfortunately does nothing more than fuel the hoax further so that it goes round and round in a never-ending spiral, akin to other so-called challenges such as Blue Whale. Naturally, some children are going to be frightened by what they see, yet this hoax is spreading so far and wide due to the sensationalism that more and more children are seeing it.

Please click here for an information poster regarding the Momo Challenge. (uploads/MOMO-Online-Safety-Guide-for-Parents-FEB-2019.pdf)

MOMO Challenge – Information for parents

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. 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 as 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 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.

So, is the Momo Challenge real?

Momo, nor her challenge are real, in the sense that they don’t refer to a specific individual or a specific challenge (reports conflict greatly when people are asked to describe what the “challenge” actually is) and most references to Momo you’ll encounter online will exist purely to fuel the craze as opposed to cause any real damage. And when media outlets rush to find tenuous links between suicides and Internet crazes, we’d always recommend taking those reports with a pinch of salt.

But the Momo Challenge could be considered real if you take into account that children, teens or even cyber crooks may create or promote their own “versions” of it based on what they’ve already heard about it, and they can subsequently use it to engage in committing scams, cyber-bullying or other forms of inappropriate online engagement. And it’s this permutation of Momo that parents should certainly be vigilant about.