In recent weeks, a new hoax has circulated the internet and has sowed fear among parents and school administrators around the world. The hoax, called the ‘Momo Challenge,’ features a doll-like character with bulging eyes supposedly appears in the text-messaging app, WhatsApp, to compel children to do dangerous ‘challenges’ which includes harming themselves and setting their home in a fire.
The Guardian reports that charities have clarified that these scare stories about the Momo Challenge are ‘fake news’ and that there are no actual reports of children receiving messages from Momo.
As BBC reports, The Guardian has warned that the media coverage of the supposed Momo and her challenges to children has amplified a false scare story.
“News coverage of the momo challenge is prompting schools or the police to warn about the supposed risks posed by the momo challenge, which has, in turn, produced more news stories warning about the challenge,” said the Guardian media editor Jim Waterson.
WHAT IS MOMO CHALLENGE?
According to the BBC report, there are different versions of the Momo story. A doll-like image with scary eyes has said to contact children and force them to save momo as a contact. The contact will soon start to send the child with challenges that they should complete and orders children not to tell anyone from their family. Another version of the story says that ‘hackers’ make the image of momo appear unexpectedly in children’s phone screen.
Furthermore, unofficial video clips of children’s favorite TV show, ‘Peppa Pig’, have been edited to show the video of momo randomly in the middle of the video telling children to carry specific tasks.
However, according to the UK Safe Internet Centre, these stories are ‘fake news.’ And YouTube has denied that these videos are existing in their platform as it is a violation of their Terms of Service.
A story is also circulating Facebook groups that the Momo Challenge is linked to the deaths of 300 teenagers in Russia. However, no evidence to corroborate this claim was ever produced. This story is weirdly similar to the 2013 Blue Whale hoax linking 130 deaths of teens in Russia without any evidence.
The image of Momo is a photo of a Japanese special effects company Link Factory.
WHERE DID IT ALL START?
According to the pop-culture website, Know Your Meme, the image of momo has started to gain attention since 2016. However, the issue was amplified when a mother heard a story from his son at school and warned her contacts on a Facebook group for residents of Westhoughton, a small Lancashire town at the edge of Bolton. What once started as an anecdote from a little boy, has now grown into a global panic-inducing story.
The Guardian reports that the Momo phenomenon is a ‘moral panic’ spread by adults.
Amid the fact that no report has been verified regarding the risk of Momo to children, police officers and school authorities have warned parents about the so-called Momo Challenge and to secure their children when using the internet.
Although there is no actual harm that the ‘challenge’ has caused, The Guardian warns that “the ensuing media hysteria could now be putting vulnerable people at risk by encouraging them to think of self-harm.”
The charity Samaritan has also said: “These stories being highly publicized and starting a panic means vulnerable people get to know about it and that creates a risk.” They recommended media outlets read their guidelines on reporting suicide and suggested press coverage is “raising the risk of harm.”
“Currently we’re not aware of any verified evidence in this country or beyond linking Momo to suicide,” said the Samaritans spokesperson. “What’s more important is parents and people who work with children concentrate on broad online safety guidelines.”
FEEDBACK LOOP: MEDIA REPORTS, PEOPLE RESPOND, MEDIA REPORTS THAT PEOPLE RESPOND
According to the UK Safe Internet Centre, the rumor mill appears to have created a feedback loop, where the news agencies are reporting about it, prompting the police and school officials to release advisories about Momo, generating more news for the media to report. And so on.
Tremlett said she was now hearing of children who are “white with worry” as a result of media coverage about a supposed threat that did not previously exist.
“It’s a myth that is perpetuated into being some kind of reality,” she said.
“We almost need to stop talking about the issue for it to not be an issue anymore.”
Child safety campaigners, on the other hand, have said the Momo hoax has opened a conversation on legitimate concerns about online child safety, the sharing of unverified material on local Facebook groups, and officials comments of police and school authorities based on little hard evidence.
Experts urged everyone to stop proliferating the issue and to put a stop on the rumors because it may not be true, but it can the panic brought by it can cause real problems. /apr