Momo Challenge Hoax

The "Momo Challenge" is a hoax and urban legend about a nonexistent social media challenge that was spread on Facebook and other media outlets. It was reported that children and adolescents were being enticed by a user named Momo to perform a series of dangerous tasks including violent attacks, self-harm and suicide. Despite claims that the phenomenon had reached worldwide proportions in July 2018, the number of actual complaints was relatively small and no law enforcement agency has confirmed that anyone was harmed as a direct result of it. Concern and distress registered by children was primarily driven by media reports rather than as a result of "Momo", leading children's charities to view warnings against the alleged phenomenon as causing more harm than good by leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy which may encourage children to look up violent material on the internet.

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The "Momo Challenge" is a hoax and urban legend about a nonexistent social media challenge that was spread on Facebook and other media outlets.[1][2] It was reported that children and adolescents were being enticed by a user named Momo to perform a series of dangerous tasks including violent attacks, self-harm and suicide.[3][4][5] Despite claims that the phenomenon had reached worldwide proportions in July 2018, the number of actual complaints was relatively small and no law enforcement agency has confirmed that anyone was harmed as a direct result of it.[6][7][8][9] Concern and distress registered by children was primarily driven by media reports rather than as a result of "Momo", leading children's charities to view warnings against the alleged phenomenon as causing more harm than good by leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy which may encourage children to look up violent material on the internet.[4]

The challenge "became a worldwide phenomenon" in 2018 after an Indonesian newspaper reported that it had caused a 12-year-old girl to kill herself.[10] Awareness grew in February 2019 after the Police Service of Northern Ireland posted a public warning on Facebook, and American media personality Kim Kardashian posted on her Instagram Story pleading that YouTube remove alleged "Momo" videos.[11][12]

Background and reactions

The Momo Challenge gained the public's attention in July 2018, when it was noticed by a YouTuber, ReignBot.[13] Targeting teenagers, people presenting themselves as a character named Momo on WhatsApp messages try to convince people to contact them through their cell phone. As with other Internet hoaxes presented as challenges such as Blue Whale, players are then instructed to perform a succession of tasks, refusal to do so being met with threats. Messages are subsequently accompanied by frightening or gory pictures.[6][7][8][14] A number of British parents claim Momo being is inserted into seemingly innocuous YouTube and YouTube Kids videos about Peppa Pig and Fortnite; these claims were repeated by the group National Online Safety.[15]

Although authorities have not confirmed any physical harm resulting from this, or even that a sustained exchange of messages took place between the Momo character and anybody, police forces and school administrations on several continents have issued warnings about the Momo Challenge and repeated common advice about Internet safety. WhatsApp is encouraging its users to block phone numbers engaging in this practice and to report them to the company.[6][7][16]

Commenting on the numerous rumours of suicide related to the Momo Challenge, web security experts and folklorists studying urban legend have stated that the phenomenon is likely a case of moral panic: a sensationalised hoax fueled by unverified media reports.[17][18] Benjamin Radford says "the Blue Whale Game and the Momo Challenge have all the hallmarks of a classic moral panic",[19] "fueled by parents' fears in wanting to know what their kids are up to. There's an inherent fear in what young people are doing with technology."[11][9] By September 2018, most phone numbers associated with "Momo" were out of service.[20][21][22][23] The founder of fact-checking site Snopes, David Mikkelson, doubts anybody came to any harm and said the whole thing "may primarily be a product of bullies and pranksters latching onto a handy mechanism to goad and torment vulnerable youngsters rather than an intrinsic part of a particular social media challenge."[5]

In response to reports, YouTube has said that it has "not received any links to videos showing or promoting the Momo challenge on YouTube" but permits news stories and videos intended to raise awareness of and educate against the alleged phenomenon.[15] The website has demonetised all videos mentioning Momo, including those of news organisations, saying such content violates its advertiser-friendly content guidelines. It has also placed advisory warnings on some Momo videos alerting viewers of "inappropriate or offensive" content.[10]

Spread

Argentina

Despite several media reports tentatively establishing a relationship between the Momo Challenge and the suicide of a 12-year-old girl from Ingeniero Maschwitz, no link has been confirmed by authorities.[6][8][14][24]

Brazil

Authorities in Brazil have not confirmed any case linked to the Momo Challenge. The national SaferNet non-profit organization has been approached by concerned parents and warned that this is only one of a variety of schemes to extort money and information from people.[25]

Canada

In the province of Quebec, local police forces of Longueuil, Sherbrooke and Gatineau have indicated that people in their jurisdiction have been approached to participate in the Momo Challenge but did not report any victims. They are asking people not to use the phone number provided in the WhatsApp messages and to send screen capture images of their phone to police authorities. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other police forces say they are monitoring the spread of the phenomenon but could not confirm any actual victim.[26][27][28]

Colombia

The police have not confirmed news reports linking the death of two youths in Barbosa to the Momo Challenge in early September.[29]

Europe

In France, a group at the State Department was reviewing the situation daily in late July 2018.[30] A complaint was filed in November by a father whose son committed suicide.[31]

In Germany, the police were only aware of mentions made in chain letters. They are asking the population to act prudently when faced with that kind of cell phone contact.[32]

The Luxembourg police confirmed one case on its territory, but no harm was caused.[33]

The Belgian Public Prosecutor's Office reported on 6 November 2018 that a 13-year-old boy had been the victim of the Momo Challenge and hanged himself.[34][better source needed]

Spain's National Police warned people to stay away from new "challenge" applications that pop up on WhatsApp, indicating the Momo phenomenon was in vogue among teenagers.[25]

In the United Kingdom, some school administrations relayed warnings about the phenomenon.[16] Reports on and awareness of the alleged challenge rose in February 2019 after the Police Service of Northern Ireland issued a public warning.[11] British authorities say the challenge is being used by cybercriminals to gain personal identity information.[15] Responding to tabloid coverage, the NSPCC, the Samaritans, and the UK Safer Internet Centre have issued statements that the Momo Challenge is a hoax.[35][36] The parent who alerted the press to the Momo Challenge subsequently said her child had not received messages from "Momo", but was merely told about it in a school playground conversation.[5] Nevertheless, authorities and the media issued online safety precautions. Nicola Harteveld (who said her son was targeted by the challenge) and clinical psychologist Anna Colton warned on ITV's daytime TV show This Morning not to search for Momo online, and advised parents to be aware of their children's activity online.[37]

India

On 29 August 2018, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in West Bengal indicated that claims reported in the media about the death of two teens being linked to the Momo Challenge were "far fetched and devoid of any evidence". CID believes most of the large volume of Momo Challenge invitations in India originate locally as pranks sent to spread panic. A CID spokesperson stated that "so far, the game has not claimed any victim, nor has anyone approached us saying they have played even the first level of it."[13]

The CID statement follows weeks of news coverage about unconfirmed cases. After being alerted by a youth who received a Momo Challenge invitation, police in West Bengal issued a warning, and the cybercrime unit has opened an investigation. The Mumbai police had previously started to warn the population, although no complaints were filed.[38][39][40][41] Police have not confirmed any role the Momo Challenge might have played in the death of a girl in grade 10 who committed suicide after leaving a note expressing discouragement with low grades or the suicide of an engineering student in Chennai.[42][43][44]

The Odisha Police, while issuing an advisory, are asking the media to refrain from publishing unconfirmed reports linking teen death to the Momo Challenge.[45]

Mexico

Mexican authorities investigating Internet crimes distributed detailed information to parents about the methods of the scheme. They suspect it has spread through a Facebook group frequented by young people. They warned those caught in the scheme risked self-harm, hacking and extortion.[8][6]

Pakistan

Pakistan's Minister of Information Technology announced the government intends to draft legislation making it a crime to distribute both the Momo Challenge and the Blue Whale Challenge.[46][47]

Philippines

Police authorities issued warnings to parents to be vigilant of their children's online activity after an 11-year-old boy died from apparent suicide by drug overdose on 11 January 2019, linking the incident to the viral challenge, although no official confirmation of direct relation to the incident has been established by the authorities.[48][49] In the aftermath of the reports, Raffy Tulfo and other YouTubers voiced their condolences to the family, encouraging that children be monitored by their parents. They also linked the Blue Whale Challenge to the incident.[50][51]

United States

In early August 2018, various local police forces in the United States warned the population about the dangers of the phenomenon. Some jurisdictions have received several complaints, but no jurisdiction reported anybody being harmed.[52]

The Momo character has also appeared in the popular game Minecraft in the form of in-game skins and unofficial mods created by the game's users. A police officer in Ohio was concerned to see Momo in his son's copy of the game, worried about the possibility that the mod could lead to participation in the Momo Challenge. After news reports started to outline the link between the Minecraft mod and the Momo Challenge, Microsoft announced it was taking measures to "restrict access to the mod" in question.[53][54]

Picture

A photograph of a sculpture of an ubume, produced by Japanese artist Keisuke Aisawa at special effects firm Link Factory, was popularly used to depict "Momo".[55] The firm denies any involvement with the hoax. The sculpture has bulging eyes and a beak-like mouth. Pictures of the sculpture were first posted online in 2016, when it was publicly exhibited.[6][8] The remainder of the sculpture, not always shown by "Momo" accounts or the media, consists of a small, bald, chicken-like body with avian feet and human breasts.[55]

Early news reports stating the image was of a sculpture by Japanese artist Midori Hayashi turned out to be incorrect. Hayashi indicated that it was not her piece, and Internet users identified Aisawa as the correct source.[6] Aisawa confirmed in March 2019 that the sculpture had been thrown away in 2018, after its material, rubber and natural oils had rotted away.[56][57]

See also

References

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  2. BBC Newsnight (2019-02-28), Momo Challenge: The viral hoax, retrieved 2019-03-01
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  4. 1 2 Waterson, Jim (2019-02-28). "Schools, police and media told to stop promoting Momo hoax". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-02-28.
  5. 1 2 3 Mikkleson, David (February 26, 2019). "How Much of a Threat Is the Purported 'Momo Challenge' Suicide Game?". Snopes. Retrieved March 1, 2019.
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  49. PROTECT OUR CHILDREN! THE BLUE WHALE AND THE MOMO CHALLENGE EXPOSED!. Nico David. February 27, 2019.
  50. Wag mong gagawin ang BLUE WHALE at MOMO CHALLENGE. Claro the Third. February 28, 2019.
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  54. 1 2 Vanilla Gallery (15 July 2018). "MOTHER-BIRD by #LinkFactory/#KeisukeAisawa (2016, On Display at @vanillagallery_jp) #BetweenMirrors". Instagram (in English and Japanese). Retrieved 4 September 2018. LINK FACTORY謹製姑獲鳥と一緒に写真を撮ろう!こちらの作品は攝影可能です!! とびっきりのスマイルでハイ、チーズ!
  55. "'Momo' sculptor has thrown away creation, feels 'responsible' for fake challenge". AsiaOne. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
  56. Dickson, EJ (March 4, 2019). "'Momo Challenge' Sculpture Has Been Destroyed". Rolling Stones. Archived from the original on March 5, 2019. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
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