Brett Lee: The MOMO Challenge – Addressing Fake News with your Children

It’s no secret that ‘The MOMO Challenge’ has been dominating airwaves, morning television and any online news site that you might by reading. By now you will have read that it’s an internet hoax, but what is it exactly? And how should you be addressing this with your children?


What is the MOMO Challenge?

The Momo Challenge is an internet hoax being circulated in which a scary, large-eyed, feminine-looking monster with black stringy hair and claws for hands – contacts children via WhatsApp messages and YouTube videos. The Momo is said to encourage children to self-harm or kill themselves, as well as hack their phones and bombard them with disturbing, graphic photos. Other reports mention the threat of making the victim’s private information public.


Where did it start and how did it gain momentum?

The image that is used in the hoax is actually a photo of a sculpture called ‘Motherbird’, which was created by a Japanese special effects artist. In July 2018, a Reddit user reportedly shared a photo of the sculpture and it went viral. The next day a YouTuber uploaded a video about the photo with the ‘urban myth’ of the Momo and explaining what the ‘Momo Challenge’ was. This received more than one hundred thousand views in the subsequent hours.


Is there any truth to the Challenge?

The short answer – no. There have unfortunately been four suicides worldwide which have been attributed to the challenge – adding fuel to the fire. But while these suicides are tragic, there is no conclusive evidence to prove a link between the hoax and the deaths.


How come it’s back making news headlines?

In February 2019, one mother posted to Facebook and soon after to Twitter, that her daughter had been watching Peppa Pig on YouTube Kids and had seen the face pop up. But after much intensive research conducted by multiple media outlets as well as an internal investigation by YouTube itself, the following statement was released on Twitter on February 27th. “We have seen no recent evidence of videos promoting the Momo Challenge on YouTube. Videos encouraging harmful and dangerous challenges are against our policies.” This was shortly followed by another tweet, “If you see harmful or dangerous challenges on YouTube, we encourage you to flag them to us immediately.”

Experts believe that the current state of panic is essentially a case of kids trying to scare other kids by sharing the images and perpetuating the story. But it has spread this time more as a news story about a supposed threat to children, fed by parental fear and given credence by the media.


So, what to do?

The Momo Challenge may be a hoax, but it represents what every parent fears – their children being frightened or taken advantage of over the internet or through technology that they themselves may very well not understand. It’s important to stress to children that the Momo is not real, that it is a sculpture from an artist and, that if they do see the photo to report it to you.

The takeaway from this issue is the importance of checking in with your children and broaching the topic of them being open with you about what they see and hear online. It might also be helpful to read up on putting parental controls on devices and specific apps like YouTube and WhatsApp if your kids are using them.

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