A lot has been made of the MOMO challenge here in the Middle East, and it’s due to the power of social media that this has spread so quickly again. The rather strange looking head associated with the so called ‘suicide’ game first came on the scene back in 2016. Originating out of Mexico, it spread quickly, much like the Blue Whale ‘game’ that hit the headlines around the same time.
In 2019, the spread was perhaps even more rampant as we worried about our little ones online, first seeing ‘MOMO’ and then secondly reportedly interacting with ‘her’. The worry was such, that she was spread across WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook groups like the British Mums in Dubai Facebook group in a matter of hours, as we wanted to alert other mums to the ‘latest’ online threat to our children.
There are several reported ‘real’ sightings of MOMO, popping up in YouTube videos, in WhatsApp chats, even in games that children are playing. These sightings reportedly outlined how young people had been contacted and dared to do things. The first dares start out relatively harmless – things like not doing your homework, don’t do your chores, don’t brush your teeth; but as the ‘game’ progresses, the dares become more dangerous and delve into violence and self-harm. There have even been reports of young people committing suicide as the ultimate dare from MOMO. However, what needs to be noted, is that globally, there hasn’t been a corroborated story confirming the link between a suicide and the MOMO challenge.
That’s not to say this isn’t something we need to worry about.
Social panic caused by parents trying to protect their children from the challenge, rather than cases of children reporting their experience of the MOMO challenge, caused the phenomenon to spread like wildfire.
The ‘game’ itself seems to lack any depth once you get passed the odd visual. In fact, it seems to lack any kind of documented evidence that children were indeed being affected by this.
It appears to have been another case of fake news.
So how can you respond to reports such as these?
Don’t just dismiss the MOMO challenge as an internet hoax, use it as a discussion point with your children. It’s an opportunity to explain a few things about internet safety;
Not everything you read or see online is true – you can give a deeper explanation of how ‘MOMO’ is not a monster living on the internet, but merely a special effect designed by sculptor Keisuke Aiso. You can also reassure them that the model doesn’t exist anymore as the artist confirmed it had rotted away.
The only way for the game to have worked would have been if children were giving out their phone numbers and personal details so the dares could be communicated to them – this is a chance to revisit the idea of stranger danger and talking to strangers. Reinforcing the notion of not giving your contact details out to people or things you don’t know. This also leads into a conversation of having people you don’t know following you on social channels.
Information can spread very fast and far online – this is a conversation centered on the idea of their online reputation and how quickly their reputation could be sullied with just one inappropriate post, image, comment or video. It might be meant as a joke, it might be innocent in their mind, but look how fast a special effect became the face of a global panic amongst mums.
It’s our job as parents to make sure that our children have an increased level of understanding and awareness of the digital space. Talking to them about these internet “challenges” and hoaxes is the best way you can provide a safe as possible digital space for your children.
About the author:
Barry Lee Cummings is the Chief Awareness Officer of Beat The Cyberbully, a not for profit awareness and education initiative helping increase the level of understanding for parents, children, teachers and care givers on the subjects of; cybersafety, cyberbullying prevention, cyber security and online reputation amongst others.
If you’d like to blog for British Mums please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org we’d love to hear from you!