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What is the Momo Challenge?

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Every year there appears to be a new reason for parents to reach for the internet cable and keep their children safe from some sort of game or challenge that can potentially harm them. Today that concerning thing is the Momo Challenge.

Much like the Blue Whale Challenge a few years ago, the Momo Challenge appears to have wormed its way into the public discourse through a series of tabloid reports, misinformation and hearsay.

The reason we bring this up is because at the weekend the Police Service of Northern Ireland shared a warning on its Facebook page.

As one would expect, this has led to several articles about the dangers of the internet and reports that this creature would reach out through a PC, laptop or handset and inspire kids to harm themselves or harm others.

So the first question is, is Momo real? Well yes but as with most things the truth is slightly more complicated than a one word answer.

The character in the image that is being bandied about is real and from what we can tell it is a model that was created by a Japanese special effects company. The image gained popularity on Reddit and other internet forums and now it’s the face of a scary challenge.

It is not a supernatural being hacking into WhatsApp or YouTube but is more than likely a bunch of cyberbullies and trolls. Reports that games have been hacked to feature the Momo image cannot be corroborated or confirmed and we’d say it’s unlikely that Fortnite is being hacked to showcase the image without Epic Games having knowledge of it.

That having been said, if you are downloading APKs of games from sources other than the Google Play Store and your child mentions strange goings on then it’s best to take that seriously as APKs can be compromised.

“According to various reports, the Momo challenge is supposedly a form of cyberbullying prevalent on platforms such as WhatsApp and YouTube, through which children receive anonymous threatening messages tied to pictures of “Momo,” an unrelated sculpture of a grinning figure with dark hair and bulging eyes created by a Japanese special effects company,” reads an article by Snopes.

The issue here then is more likely cyberbullying and trolls than it is a supernatural being. These miscreants are using an understandably freakish image to coerce kids into doing things they might not want to do or even worse preying on vulnerable children, perhaps saying that this being will hunt them down.

Should you be pulling the plug on YouTube and games though?

Well that’s the big question isn’t it and I can’t tell you how to parent but if you’re not prepared to sit with your child and watch content on YouTube with them or vet games and videos before putting them in the hands of your kids it’s probably a good idea to stop tapping an app and leaving the child to their own devices.

A quick search of YouTube presents, a mess of videos that are unfortunately sure to catch the eye of a curious child or teen.

Videos talking about how the “momo challenge character” told a boy to stab himself and Momo Challenge videos on YouTube Kids are scattered among the results. Should we be concerned with these videos on YouTube Kids? Yes, absolutely but that’s a problem that should be raised with YouTube which has let questionable content through its filters for years.

We’ve embedded a video below that highlights some of the more egregious videos on YouTube Kids and perhaps parents will be more prone to curating their child’s online viewing when they see how rampant the problem is.

As Snopes points out (seriously, bookmark Snopes and search anything such as this in future) reports of deaths tied to Momo are sketchy at best.

Harsh as it may seem, a person having thoughts of suicide may have pre-existing mental challenges that are simply exacerbated by bullying, and online bullying is far too easy for trolls and their ilk.

Licensed psychologist and executive board member of the American Association of Suicidology, Dr. April Foreman had this to say when speaking to Rolling Stone:

“We need to remind parents that things are happening that are sort of the new media analogues of strangers giving out candy on the side of the road,” she says. In addition to implementing parental controls and filters on all of their kids’ devices, parents should also “say [to their kids], ‘You may see some weird stuff, if you do turn it off. Just let me know.”

As we mentioned when the Blue Whale challenge was doing the rounds, speak to your children, establish an open dialogue and talk to them about things such as this.

For those who think there is a serious problem with their child, seek proper medical help, you aren’t going to find solutions in the tabloids. Be more active in what your kids are watching. Yes, YouTube is easy but it requires curation in order to filter out the harmful content that floods the platform on a daily basis.

Above all else, avoid reading tabloids and taking those reports as the gospel truth. Think critically and consider the facts. Your child might just be depressed and for that the best solution is a loving parent, conversation and perhaps professional help.

If you or somebody you know is struggling with mental illness, depression or suicide, reach out to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group for help.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.