There have been many different ‘cyber scares’ and online challenges spread over the years, and while some have been proven to have been hoaxes early on, the lifespan of what’s become known as the ‘Momo’ challenge has been pretty extraordinary. Thanks to warnings shared through social media, it’s been circulating for a while now that children have been at risk of accessing a scary challenge game via WhatsApp. Not only is the supposed challenge scary, it also reportedly encourages youngsters to harm themselves. It’s also, thankfully, a complete hoax.
The supposed challenge, which reportedly pops up randomly through ‘hacking’ of WhatsApp, is marked by the image of a terrifying, bug-eyed character. This character has since been revealed to have been a sculpture designed by Link Factory, based in Japan – and as for the challenge itself, there is simply no proof of its actual existence.
BBC News reports that while the presence of a potentially harmful presence popping up on WhatsApp have been completely overblown, the viral nature of the urban legend has sadly encouraged some video uploaders to sneak distressing images into unofficial streams of popular cartoons such as Peppa Pig. Therefore, while parents are advised not to worry about the initial Momo warning, they are still being advised to be vigilant over the videos their children watch online.
Claims made by social media users sharing the Momo threat have been completely debunked by Snopes, a fact-checking authority. However, some of the images used in the hoax could still be potentially distressing for young children. The UK Safer Internet Centre has, reportedly, referred to the Momo warning as ‘fake news’.
The rise of the Momo challenge – despite its falsehood – is important in a number of ways. Not only does it showcase the harm that over-sharing of potentially hoax material can do, it also demonstrates that there still needs to be keen vigilance when it comes to safeguarding children’s access to the internet. With younger children still regularly accessing the web via tablets and more, Momo has clearly shown that there needs to be greater accountability in what we do and don’t show to our children.
There are no reports of self-harm having been documented by the supposed challenge – and, rather tellingly, children’s welfare charity NSPCC advised The Guardian that more calls had been made to their centers on behalf of the mass media than by worried parents.
Ultimately, don’t panic – but do keep an eye on what your children access online.