Young children watching videos on YouTube and social media are reportedly being targeted by the “terrifying” online challenge game Momo, but experts warn the disturbing trend is actually a hoax.
The Momo challenge, which appears to have originated in Japan, is an online viral sensation featuring an image of a disturbing female sculpture with distorted features, including bulging eyes, bird legs and long black hair.
The image has supposedly been linked to multiple incidents around the world where children and teenagers have allegedly taken their own lives or attempted to injure themselves after seeing the graphic image – but none of these cases has been confirmed.
Haslingden Primary School, based in the UK, released a statement of Facebook on Wednesday claiming some of its students had begun to engage with the images circulating on Youtube.
— dəxťəř (@itscarlothe2nd) February 28, 2019
“One of the videos starts innocently, like the start of a Peppa Pig episode, for example, but quickly turn into an altered version with violence and offensive language.
“Another video clip is going by the name of ‘Momo’ which shows a warped white mask which is prompting children to do dangerous tasks without telling their parents.
We have become increasingly aware of highly inappropriate videos circulating online and are being viewed by children…
“Examples we have noticed in school include asking the children to turn the gas on or to find and take tablets,” the post warned on social media.
‘It is a disturbing hoax’
According to clinical psychologist Jordan Foster, Momo was nothing more than a disturbing hoax.
“Most recently we’ve seen the Blue Whale challenge [another sinister suicide game] and the reason why these videos become viral is because they are given so much attention, which creates so much fear,” Ms Foster told The New Daily.
“Parents are fuelled by panic which then leads them to share these warnings widely, and then stories that are fabricated emerge similar to what’s happened with Momo.”
Ms Foster said parents should still be warned by these types of sinister challenges.
We want to clear something up regarding the Momo Challenge: We’ve seen no recent evidence of videos promoting the Momo Challenge on YouTube. Videos encouraging harmful and dangerous challenges are against our policies.
— YouTube (@YouTube) February 27, 2019
“This is just a timely reminder that parents always need to be vigilant about what our kids are doing online.
“Parents need to fact check any phenomenon like this and they can do so by conducting their own Google search and also reading credible sites and not blog posts.”
YouTube’s ‘horrific content’
Cyber safety educator Leonie Smith said there was no evidence suggesting the Momo trend had caused suicides or harm among young viewers.
“It’s grown a life of its own because there’s no substantial evidence that it ever happened,” Ms Smith told The New Daily.
Ms Smith said YouTube and YouTube Kids still contained sinister videos in a phenomenon called Elsagate.
The disturbing content is named after the character from Disney’s Frozen, where typing “Elsa” and other children’s characters names into YouTube leads to videos involving all kinds of bizarre acts, including suicide and self-harm.
Worried parents and teachers warning people about the scary "Momo Challenge" might be the only reason people are talking about it.
It's a hoax lacking any real evidence that it actually exists.
— UberFacts (@UberFacts) February 28, 2019
“There’s horrific stuff on YouTube such as bot farms (automated software) planting all these disturbing things in the middle of kids’ videos and things that are shocking will get passed around.
“YouTube has not been able to manage this at all and it’s driven by advertising because if it’s shocking then it will be passed around.”
In a statement to Forbes, YouTube said: “Contrary to press reports, we’ve not received any recent evidence of videos showing or promoting the Momo challenge on YouTube. Content of this kind would be in violation of our policies and removed immediately.”
Advice for parents
Ms Smith said parents needed to ensure that young children watched content from official broadcasters such as apps that don’t have user-generated content.
“ABC Kids, Nickelodeon, Disney, Netflix Kids and Foxtel Kids are all safe, and make sure, if you’re children are watching videos, it’s on a big TV screen not a small iPad.
“This gives parents the opportunity to easily see what they’re doing and within those channels there could be something that does spook your child and it’s important to keep your eyes on that.”
Ms Foster also advised parents to use Family Zone that offers parental control tools.
“Family Zone can block apps or content that’s inappropriate for a child’s age group, but one of the most important things is that it sends a report to a parent as to why something has been blocked.”
Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 224 636.