Anyone can anonymously put anything on the Internet. These conditions make the online world a warped digital facsimile of modern life, a place for vacation photos and kid-friendly content, yes, but also misinformation campaigns and pedophile-friendly videos.
In the past week, several parents have been frightened by the so-called “the Momo Challenge,” a viral concern about a mysterious profile contacts a kid online, often through WhatsApp. The profile is named Momo and has as its avatar an image of a creepy as hell sculpture created by Japanese artist Keisuke Aisawa. The profile strikes up a dialogue with and goads the kid into completing a series of tasks that escalates into self-harm. Turns out, it’s probably a hoax.
Today, pieces published by both The Atlantic and Inverse suggest that there have not actually been any reported cases of “the Momo challenge,” happening. Writing for, Inverse Peter Hess points out that “it’s not clear whether the phenomenon is actually happening,” and that if it is a hoax, “the scariest part of this viral phenomenon is how it’s distracting from the real harm that is happening across the internet.”So, despite reports of suicides linked to the Mom from around the world, there isn’t an actual credible report of any such thing actually occurring.
Still, the scenario itself a parent’s worst nightmare. It hits every worry button parents have: stranger danger, what kids hide, and, of course, the unimaginable pain of losing a child to suicide. It’s the awfulness of the Momo challenge (and its precursors, Blue Whale, eating Tide Pods, and condom snorting) that elicits strong reactions on social media (sometimes from celebrities with huge audiences), prompting coverage from local media and statements from websites and law enforcement, the imprimatur of which makes the threat seem even more real, a rapidly escalating cycle of fear.
But that’s not the end of the story, because fears about the challenge are causing problems separate from what the challenges itself would do. It’s on parents to educate themselves on the real dangers of the internet, use the available tools they have to control what their kids see, and, finally, just talk to those kids about how to be safe online.
Because while Momo isn’t real, there are plenty of unsavory characters online, and part of raising a kid in the 21st century is teaching him or her how to avoid them.