Momo is a hoax, but you should still wise up, Mama
Cyberbullying game has been exposed, but that doesn't change the fact that 'terrible humans are online preying on children'
An online cyberbullying app encouraging children to self-harm has been exposed as a hoax, but experts say the so-called Momo Challenge should still serve as a “big wake-up call to parents”.
Last week, the Film and Publications Board urged parents “to be vigilant and closely monitor their children’s online activities”.
“It has come to our attention that the game Momo Challenge is a form of cyberbullying targeting young children. It encourages self-harm and may even lead to suicide,” the board said.
“The Momo Challenge appears as a scary image on online platforms with requests for the user to contact ‘Momo’ on WhatsApp through one of several contact numbers. Reports claim that the character instructs children to complete challenges that they must keep secret or ‘Momo’ will kill them.”
Social media lawyer Emma Sadler said the game has been exposed as a hoax.
“Momo isn’t real, just like the Blue Whale game was fake, but the fact is that some terrible humans are online preying on children.
“The Momo hoax is a big wake-up call to parents ... Parents need to wise up to what their children are doing online.”
Sadler said children were a lot savvier than their parents when it came to the internet, and kids under the age of 13 should not be allowed to have smartphones.
“Phones are so powerful. We basically become publishers once we have them. I believe they should be banned at schools and I think kids younger than 13 want cellphones because of peer pressure.
“If your child needs a phone, get them a dumb phone,” she said.
Marc Hardwick, founder of The Guardian, an organisation that works to protect children, said today’s “snowflake” generation had such a low emotional quotient (EQ) that they were susceptible to online threats.
“Kids may be more tech savvy, but they have a lower EQ and are more fragile. A child 20 years ago wouldn’t receive a letter that said ‘go jump off a building’ and actually do it.
“Children want so badly to be liked and social media has given them a way to quantify their popularity. Teens will take risks for likes and they have the opportunities online to get roped into doing inappropriate and dangerous things.”
Hardwick said parents needed to teach their children coping mechanisms.
“Kids need to fail, but in a controlled environment. They are taught that they can’t go to the park without their parents, instead of learning what dangers to avoid at the park if they find themselves alone.
“They need to learn how to cope with a hostile world instead of being safeguarded all the time. Otherwise this generation will grow up dysfunctional and more likely to be taken in by threats,” he said.
Counsellor Andy Cohen said the anxieties involved were complicated.
“What parents are actually worried about is that their child might be vulnerable in emotional ways, leaving them open to external threats. But I wonder if the real anxiety is that parents have their own unnamed anxieties too, and these two play into and off each other, exacerbating the issue.
“The anxiety within the parent, it used to be child abductions, now it’s Momo. The anxiety is caused by an internal anxiety and not an external threat,” she said.
Media Monitoring Africa director William Bird said while the organisation had not examined the Momo Challenge more than having read the comments and stories in the media, it seemed to be a classic case of misinformation.
“Spreading stories like the Momo Challenge hoax creates unreasonable fear and panic.
“It prevents us and young people from using the internet in more useful and even simply enjoyable ways. The short answer is, we need extensive critical and digital literacy programmes to be rolled out so that people learn to think before sharing; to check before sending to friends and to help prevent fear spreading.”
Where did Momo come from?
The Japanese artist behind the images that sparked the recent viral “Momo Challenge” hoax told AFP he destroyed the creepy doll long ago and never meant to harm anyone.
The scary image with goggly eyes and a pained expression was based on ubume, the Japanese ghost of a woman who died during childbirth, explained Keisuke Aiso, head of Tokyo-based firm LINK FACTORY, which makes props for TV dramas.
The 1m-tall silicon-based sculpture was first shown at a ghost-themed exhibition in Tokyo’s swanky Ginza district in 2016, but attracted little attention at the time.
It was one of many ghost-themed sculptures in Aiso’s repertoire, and the artist said: “It was meant to scare people, yes, but it wasn’t meant to harm anyone.” Aiso, 43, destroyed the sculpture in 2018 because it began to deteriorate. “That was nothing to do with the recent case.”
He appeared bemused by reports about the Momo Challenge: “I’d be happy if such a challenge never existed.”