The “Momo Challenge” panic only encourages internet hoax creators


Graphic by Pixabay used with permission under a creative commons license

Momo's image is actually that of a statue called "Mother Bird" sculpted by Japanese artist Keisuke Aisawa.

Faith Cheung, Opinions Writer

Perhaps you think you’ve seen it all, from the Tide Pod challenge to the Kylie Jenner lip challenge. But looking at the latest viral interweb panic, Momo, we can see that these bandwagon trends aren’t quite behind us and if anything, the effects are getting more serious.

The “Momo” challenge first gained public attention in July 2018. Using messaging services like WhatsApp, anonymous people targeted teenagers with threatening messages accompanied by gory or frightening images, all the while disguised by a sculpture made by a Japanese artist. It’s obvious why this piece of artwork was chosen as the face of this challenge. A woman with bulging eyes and a thin, grim smile, this sculpture deemed “Mother Bird” is extremely disturbing.

However, since 2018 this challenge has shifted its targets to younger children instead of teenagers, with Momo allegedly randomly appearing in children’s shows such as Peppa Pig on Youtube. This has obviously alarmed parents, especially since Youtube is often used to entertain their children while they’re busy elsewhere.

The possibility that their child has been traumatized and contacted by Momo when they weren’t in the vicinity is extremely concerning to parents. Even celebrity mother, Kim Kardashian, has posted on social media to her millions of followers, pleading with Youtube to remove any and all alleged videos Momo has infiltrated.

While Momo is certainly many parents’ worst nightmares, there has been no evidence confirming it as a real viral challenge and authorities have never tied any cases of physical harm to this online challenge. According to the Washington Post, the recent panic surrounding Momo began on Feb. 17, with a parent anonymously posting to a Facebook group for the town of Westhoughton, England about how their child told others that Momo was going to go into their room at night and kill them.

The surprising lack of evidence and unreliable origin of this challenge points to Momo as being a viral media hoax rather than a dangerous and real internet scare. Perhaps this scare did not start out as legitimate, but the amount of attention it got has amplified the presence of it in our virtual universe. What teens and parents may have originally laughed off as a joke now seems like a very real danger simply because of news outlets and alarmed parents creating a mountain out of a molehill.

Whitney Phillips, a professor of media literacy at Syracuse University asked the public to answer two questions before retweeting or sharing a warning about a media challenge like Momo. One, who will this behavior benefit and two, what information are you lacking? Before following one’s instinct of alarm and screenshotting the warning to send to friends or family members, it’s absolutely necessary to think of who will truly benefit from your actions.

Indulging the Momos of the world doesn’t only perpetuate this kind of behavior, encouraging the bullies and creeps of the internet to create their own sorts of panic, but it also risks harming who you were trying to help by sharing the information. While one might believe that they are merely sensitizing people to these threats and protecting them, in truth, you are traumatizing them with constant panicked warnings, playing right what the hoax creator intended. Moreover, many bullies on the internet may try to capitalize on the sensation caused by Momo, creating their own copycat version of this dangerous game.

At the end of the day, the creators of these viral hoaxes have achieved their true goal: to create a panic from virtually nothing. By getting the media and everyday people to do their dirty work for them, these creators have ultimately succeeded in traumatizing the general public – perhaps without even sending out a threatening message as Momo. Nowadays, it’s certainly hard to tell truth from fiction, especially today, with our internet version of razors hidden Halloween candy. But the thing is, people can certainly fight the hoax- simply think before you tweet.