Momo Hoax Exposed

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Momo Hoax Exposed

Jenna Miller, Editor in Chief

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A seemingly-viral Internet challenge made waves February 28 after unnerving anecdotes from concerned parents surfaced about kid-friendly YouTube content, such as Fortnite and Peppa Pig being interlaced with frightening imagery and instructions promoting self-harm. In such claims given by numerous parents from the US and UK on Facebook, children were being exposed to a traumatizing character named “Momo” who threatened to kill viewers if they do not complete certain “challenges” midway through videos that begun as kid-friendly.

One woman provided an anecdote to UK newspaper The Sun about her child’s exposure to Momo. Her son had been watching a gaming channel when one of the videos he was watching featured the frightening creature in it. “The video paused halfway through — [sic] but he didn’t press pause. Then the Momo face popped up and was making weird noises, he couldn’t hear everything it said but it was saying ‘I’m going to kill you’ and he thinks it said ‘I will hurt your friends’.”

This woman’s story, followed by other reports from scared mothers across the United States and United Kingdom claiming their kids were exposed to Momo, led to widespread fear about the challenge — which might, in its current incarnation, actually be a hoax or over-exaggeration.

The Momo challenge existed in the past. It originated in South America in August 2018. “Momo” accounts on WhatsApp would lure children and teenagers into befriending them, and then coaxing the youngsters into performing acts of self-harm. Such a challenge died down until September, when WhatsApp began suspending Momo accounts from their platform. However, the Momo challenge is supposedly having a comeback on YouTube and Snapchat.

Police in California and North Carolina found videos on YouTube of a chilling song about the Momo character, and video footage was posted to Facebook of a six-year-old singing the song which she had learned on YouTube. Hours after the first news reports of the supposed Momo challenge surfaced, YouTube released a statement claiming they have “seen no recent evidence of videos promoting the Momo Challenge on YouTube. Videos encouraging harmful and dangerous challenges are against our policies.”

Eventually, news sources and fact-checking site Snopes investigated the Momo craze and found that, with such few screenshots and/or downloaded video footage of actual examples of interactions or encounters with Momo, the craze was a hoax.

The “Momo’s going to kill you” song and WhatsApp interactions from August were certainly real — though the same could not be said about the videos being interlaced with Momo. In fact, many of the Momo scares were caused by curious children and teens deliberately looking up Momo out of curiosity and coming across the disturbing song, as well as videos of the challenge from 2018, when it was a genuine WhatsApp threat.

“Worried parents share these hoax stories relentlessly on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram,” according to The Atlantic. “They beg the platforms themselves to do something to fix the mess. Many parents believe that spreading awareness about the latest dangerous craze will help kids stay safe, but they could very well be doing the opposite.”

School districts, including the Wantagh school district, were quick to send out emails about Momo as well. Superintendent John MacNamara’s district-wide email described the alleged challenge and its potential risks.

Though the Momo challenge eventually turned out to be a scary hoax, it teaches an important lesson to both parents and children alike. MacNamara sent out his email to encourage parents to monitor the usage of the Internet by their children. The Momo scare can educate parents and children on how compelling hoaxes can play with our minds and cause us to believe things that are not reality — and make us more wary of hoaxes in the future so that we are not unintentionally scared when we have no reason to be.

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