‘Momo challenge’ hoax badly exposes media, police and schools

Meming of life: Adults need to do better when it comes to assessing threats, real and imagined

The myth goes as follows: parents keep finding the image of a malformed girl, Momo, with a creepy, fixed smile, on their children’s phones and social media accounts

The myth goes as follows: parents keep finding the image of a malformed girl, Momo, with a creepy, fixed smile, on their children’s phones and social media accounts

 

The “Momo challenge” is, on its surface, exactly the kind of copy-pasted nonsense that will be familiar to anyone who has an older auntie with an email account, on which she forwards emails from a desktop with so many virus-laden toolbars it’s nearly unusable. The myth goes as follows; parents keep finding the image of a malformed girl, Momo, with a creepy, fixed smile, on their children’s phones and social media accounts. This image is accompanied with challenges to harm, or kill, themselves or others, as part of some kind of hyper-viral, Black Mirror variety of the “happy slapping” craze that dominated tabloid news cycles more than a decade ago. The challenge had, it was reported, led to violence, injuries and even deaths, causing fear and alarm everywhere it had emerged and, worse still, it is almost certainly heading to your home, your school, and your child any day now.

Of course, none of this is true, and there exists no credible evidence to link it to any harm or death whatsoever. At the risk of being unkind, this should be obvious to anyone who has ever read the thousands of similar hoaxes that have, over the years, alleged the existence of satanic child cults, music files that act like hallucinogenic drugs and numerous urban myths about lurid, teenage sex parties.

Russian ‘suicides’

Unfortunately, since this is 2019 and the internet is a nightmare from which the world is trying to awake, this spurious meme was picked up not just by your Uncle Mike, but by supposedly serious newspapers including The Irish Times and the BBC, and worse still by the Mirror, which reported its “link” to 130 suicides in Russia, a number that’s not just completely unconfirmed but very clearly taken from a previous, unrelated story about the “Blue Whale” suicide game hoax from 2017.

Most depressingly of all, police and even dozens of school districts have issued letters to parents “warning” them of the challenge, meaning children have now been told to be on their guard against threats to self-harm and suicide, safeguards against a non-existent threat that now paradoxically risk traumatising and scaring children for no reason.

The Momo hoax is a depressing reminder that the public deserve better from their schools and police when it comes to assessing threats, real and imagined, online. More worrying still, it shows that those who do know better are willing to peddle damaging nonsense for easy likes and shares. The real Momo challenge is not about monitoring our kids, but to make sure we hold the adults in the room to a higher standard next time.