MOMO unmasked

By now you’ve probably heard a lot about the Momo Challenge, a deadly online game that’s been scaring the daylights out of kids - and parents - around the world. The object? To  drive players to self-harm or suicide with the threat of making their private information public.

At the centre of this sick digital blackmail plot, which has been linked to multiple suicides, is the character Momo - a creepy bird-woman with bulging eyes, stringy black hair, and a boomerang-shaped mouth.

If you’re on social media, and you’re a conscientious digital parent, chances are good you’ve seen the posts and read the warnings - some of them from police - about the Momo nightmare. What you probably don't realise is that Momo is an elaborate, media-driven hoax. 

Let’s take it from the top.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and Momo's pic is definitely a killer. In fact, it's so spooky and difficult to un-see that it explains a great deal about this bizarre tale of fake digital news.

momo2The Momo image - featured left - is a cropped picture of a sculpture by Japanese artist Keisuke Aisawa.

It first appeared in a series of Facebook posts in July  2018 challenging readers to message a certain number - variously recorded as having Japanese, Colombian and Mexican country codes.

When added as a WhatsApp contact, all three numbers bombarded players (in Spanish) with threats and obscene images. Players were given an escalating series of dares, culminating in self-inflicted death.

Within weeks, the Buenos Aires Times linked the bizarre ‘game’ with the suicide of a 12-year-old girl. By August, there were reports that Momo phone numbers were appearing in Argentina, Spain, the US, France and Germany.

But just as suddenly as it had surfaced, Momo went to ground.

Why? Possibly because, as many web security experts have maintained, the Momo phenomenon was in all likelihood a sensationalised hoax fuelled by lurid media reports. And there have been exactly zero verified reports of physical harm as a result of it.

Just when you thought it was safe ...

And then - just in the last week - Momo reared her ugly head again, this time in a story in the Mail Online that spread like wildfire on social media. The source of the story was a Facebook post by a British mother whose seven-year-old “made three kids cry by telling them that ‘Momo was going to go into their room at night and kill them,’” according to the child’s teacher.

shutterstock_96949718

Is there a ‘real’ Momo involved? Was there ever? Experts believe the current panic is simply the result of kids scaring other kids (and themselves) by copying and sharing creepy images and videos from 2018.

The menace to our kids has been hideously overblown.

Which is not to say that the fear isn’t real. Or that Momo hasn’t been a useful disguise for a handful of cyberbullies of all ages. But that the ‘menace’ to our kids has been hideously overblown is beyond dispute.

“Keeping your children safe online is of course a primary concern for all parents,” observes cybersecurity expert Rik Ferguson in today’s forbes.com. “But it doesn’t help the cause when parents begin scaring each other by sharing exaggerated Facebook accounts … or when trusted media brands turn anecdotal stories into life or death situations.”

Advice for parents

  • Fact check, fact check, fact check. Don’t rely on other parents (or other parents’ Facebook shares) as definitive sources.

  • Encourage open communication with your kids about dangers and opportunities online

  • Make sure they know they can come to you if they feel worried or scared about anything they experience online.

  • Use strong parental controls to manage screen-time and block inappropriate content. Because you never know when the threat to your child could be very, very real.

(Full disclosure: Family Zone also initially took reports of the Momo ‘game’ at face value. We apologise for not digging deeper before we posted.) 

The online world can be a scary place for kids. Let Family Zone's acclaimed parental controls shine a light in the darkness. Sign up now for a free one-month trial!

SIGN UP

Topics: Parental Controls, Screen time, youtube, smartphones, WhatsApp, suicide, self-harm, momo

    Try Family Zone for FREE

    Sign up now to try Family Zone for 1 month, totally free of charge.

    Free Trial
    Subscribe to our newsletter
    Follow us on social media
    Popular posts
    Parental Controls | Cyber Safety | Cyber Experts | parenting | roblox
    Roblox: What parents must know about this dangerous game for kids
    Parental Controls | Mobile Apps | Cyber Safety | teens on social media
    Can we talk? 100 questions your teen might actually answer
    Parental Controls | Screen time | online gaming | roblox | sleep
    Family Zone: Now blocking Roblox with a single click
    Cyber Bullying | Parental Controls | Screen time | Mobile Apps | Cyber Safety | online predators | tiktok | paedophile | child predator | Likee
    LIKEE: What parents need to know about this risky TikTok wannabe
    Parental Controls | Screen time | online gaming | Fortnite | discord
    Discord: What parents need to know
    Parental Controls | online gaming | Social Media | primary school | krunker
    Krunker has landed - and it's got our kids in the crosshairs

    Recent posts

     
    Doomscrolling: What it is, why we do it, how to stop

    Compulsively reading negative news online wastes time and makes us feel awful. So why do we keep doing it - and how can we stop?

     
    How TikTok's funhouse mirror is distorting our kids' view of the world

    TikTok's algorithm pushes vulnerable kids toward risky content and risky behaviours, from eating disorders to self-harm.

     
    Would you pay to limit your own social media screen-time?

    We love our social platforms - but we also wish we spent less time on them.  A new study has found adult users are happy to pay for help in ...

     
    "Constant overstimulation" affecting kids' learning

    Teachers who've been observing concerning changes in students’ wellbeing aren’t imagining things. The constant overstimulation from screens ...