The viral challenge "Momo" turns out to be a hoax
Unless you have lived under an Internet rock (in which case I bless you), you have probably already seen something about "Momo" over the past few days. It has become a kind of hysteria on Facebook with countless parents sharing terrifying articles about a character supposedly appearing on a popular chat application and asking kids to take on "challenges" that could hurt or even kill them.
The good news? It's a total hoax. Bad news? The Internet is still a pretty scary place and the fear of unsafe children is probably what fueled this in the first place.
Now we have to warn you – if you have not seen Momo yet, you will not get ready at all. I'm all about horror movies and it's hard to blow me up, but the first time I saw her face, I cracked it.
Those bulging eyes, those burning nostrils, and that scary smile that runs from one ear to the other are conducive to nightmares. Oh, and the lack of body that ends with a set of gnarled bird paws. Once you see it, you can not ignore it, and thinking about this thing that appears on the screen and telling our kids to hurt themselves is pretty awful.
Fortunately, this does not really happen.
The fable tells that children using the WhatsApp chat application are shown "Momo", which encourages them to add it as a contact, then the character begins to launch "challenges" that could harm them, while telling the child not to share with their family or friends that they are talking to Momo. Messages on the creature as well as very scary screen shots have been circulating online for days, attracting thousands of actions and comments. I can not even tell you how many well-intentioned mothers have told the story in my Facebook thread this week. Once that happened, it quickly exploded.
But according to the BBC, all these anxieties are literally nothing, because there is no evidence that it is said that Momo's dangerous contact with children leading to an injury or death is true. The charity Samaritans "was not aware of any verified evidence in this country or beyond".
The hoax was refuted by Snopes, who quotes ReignBot, a YouTuber who regularly posts scary articles on the Internet as a source. "The Momo thing looks a lot more like an urban legend at the present time," ReignBot said. The account has released a video on the "Momo Challenge" which has collected more than 2 million views.
"People are claiming what is and what Momo is doing, but not many people have actually interacted with this account," they said. "Finding screenshots of interactions with Momo is almost impossible and you would think there would be more for something so supposedly prevalent."
Right. Which is a blatant clue that it is a total panic for nothing. Which does not mean that it is wrong to be afraid and worry when you hear about it. I consider myself rather uncomfortable with the internet because of my work, but even I nervously questioned my kids the other day about Momo. Both were familiar with the legend. And both admitted that they had never seen it themselves and no one else they knew.
But the image of Momo is very real – and did not appear from nowhere. The Atlantic gave a story of the figure and the birth of his "legend". It is actually a sculpture made by the artist Keisuke Aisawa for the Japanese special effects company Link Factory. Aisawa has titled "Mother Bird" and made it show in 2016 at the Tokyo Horror Art Gallery, the Vanilla Gallery. It's after sharing pictures of the work on a Reddit forum that the urban legend of Momo was born.
But now, the real risk, according to experts, is that hysteria surrounding the hoax puts some people at risk by evoking cases of self-harm and suicide in all media.
"The @samaritains and the @NSPCC claim there is no evidence that the Momo Challenge itself caused harm, but the resulting media hysteria could now put vulnerable people at risk by encouraging them to think about self-harm "
– Claire Phipps (@Claire_Phipps) February 28, 2019
The viral hoax is not the first of its kind and, unfortunately, it will not be the last. The "Blue Whale" challenge of 2017 has stormed the Internet with its supposedly sinister purpose of forcing kids and teens to kill each other. It was also a hoax. Like the phenomenon of consumption of tidal pods, condom sniffing and cinnamon problems. Momo can now join this list of scary things made by kids lately that have proven to be nonsense.
As the Atlantic points out, these hoaxes all follow more or less the same formula in terms of irrelevance. It starts with an obscure story of something maybe, perhaps What happens to a child in a city, then worried parents start sharing the story on social media, which makes it sound worse and more widespread than it is. Young people are laughing at naïve adults who have not yet understood that the Internet is full of lies and bullshit, it all becomes a joke and we move on to the next big, scary story on the Web.
Experts and charities have warned that the Momo Challenge is nothing more than a widespread "moral panic" among adults https://t.co/kfjVmqJDLG
– Claire Phipps (@Claire_Phipps) February 28, 2019
However, that does not mean that there are no terrible and scary things for our kids online. Just this week, we heard Dr. Free Hess, mother and pediatrician, discover "suicide instructions" in a children's video about a Nintendo game. It was very real – and very vile and scary. There is no dearth of scary obstacles that our children can discover online and we must be cautious and vigilant about what they have access to.
But Momo is something we can officially check off our list of concerns. Now let's see a million things.