Cyberbullying and other online threats to children are real to be sure, but the latest threat — the Momo challenge, in which kids messaging on the WhatsApp are directed to harm themselves or others after getting a distorted image of a woman with bulging eyes — isn’t one of them.
The image of Momo — a sculpture created by the Link Factory, a Japanese special effects company — is creepy and, frankly, terrifying, but it has nothing to do with the supposed suicide challenge. The evidence that it has caused kids to kill themselves or violently attack others is anecdotal at best, and authorities haven’t been able to confirm anything of substance.
The purported Momo game has been in the news since mid-2018 after a 12-year-old girl in Argentina hanged herself from a tree in her family’s backyard. Police confirmed the suicide, but said there was no evidence she was encouraged to take her life by a viral game, according to reports.
NBC News reported that school principals and police departments sent warnings about the Momo dare to parents across the country, and that celebrities like Kim Kardashian have picked up the rumor that the character splices itself into Fortnite YouTube videos and the WhatsApp.
A spokesperson for Google’s video streaming platform wrote on Twitter that it has seen no evidence of Momo suicide dares and that it has banned harmful “challenge” videos from its site.
The reports have been pervasive, if incorrect. A hysterical warning — “There is this thing that’s instructing kids to kill themselves. INFORM EVERYONE YOU CAN.” — was retweeted more than 22,000 times before it was deleted by the user, The Atlantic reported, noting that multiple news organizations picked up the widely debunked stories.
Celebrities also joined in the hysteria. Kim Kardashian posted a warning about the so-called Momo challenge to her 129 million Instagram followers.
But parents can relax, according to the fact-checking site Snopes, which traced the origin of the hoax.
The takeaway for parents, according to National Online Safety, is that they should always monitor their children’s online habits.