If you thought 2019 was off to a tame start in terms of weird stuff on the internet, wait until you hear what's been going on. The latest internet sensation is most widely known as "the Momo Challenge," and although it is completely fake, its dark message is nonetheless incredibly unnerving and harmful. There's a chance you might be wondering: What is the Momo Challenge? In a nutshell, it's yet another internet hoax that has parents around the world in a massive panic. Even though it's fake, the idea behind all of it is incredibly twisted.
There is a likely chance you've seen article after article regarding the infamous Momo Challenge that was trending on Facebook and Twitter as of late February 2019. If you haven't heard much about it, though, it essentially describes another viral challenge where participants are sent a YouTube video that seems harmless, and then it shows the Momo character, an extremely haunting sculpture of a woman, which is actually an art piece from a Japanese special effects company called Link Factory that has nothing to do with the challenge, according to CNN. Sometimes sent through WhatsApp from unknown numbers, Momo speaks directly to the camera, inviting viewers to participate in yet another internet challenge. Supposedly, she ropes viewers into completing all sorts of progressively harmful assignments from turning on the stove at night to playing with knives, before being instructed to actually take their own lives.
Understandably, the idea of the Momo Challenge has been extremely alarming to parents on a global scale, and it's gained a good amount of media attention. I mean, it almost sounds like another Black Mirror episode, right? Fortunately, though, none of it is even real. Say what?
Even though it appears to be no more than creepy folklore, it was reportedly connected to two reported deaths in August 2018. Indian television media company NDTV (New Delhi Television Limited) reported at the time that two young adults in north Bengal reportedly committed suicide after being invited to the Momo Challenge. Police investigating the reported deaths at the time said the Momo Challenge invitations were reportedly being sent by unknown WhatsApp numbers, and people with any sign of depression or willingness to commit suicide were reportedly targeted, per the news channel. Although, the reported deaths were never confirmed to be a direct result of the Momo Challenge.
When it comes to nailing down concrete effects of the challenge, it seems as though nobody has been proven to have participated in this Momo Challenge, according to The Washington Post. The entire concept of it all is apparently a creepy internet hoax. But when parents and news stations heard about it, talk of the Momo Challenge went totally viral (even Kim Kardashian posted to her Instagram Story about it), which might prove to be even more detrimental than the elusive videos themselves.
And even though the Momo Challenge is still seen as only a hoax, there is still something viciously harmful about all of it. The concept of the hoax shines a joking light on suicide, and trivializing the concept of suicide is never acceptable. If you didn't take a hint from the Logan Paul "Suicide Forest" controversy, it's always inappropriate. Plus, the widespread speculation of it all definitely spread the message of the challenge just as much as the Momo Challenge itself. Some have argued that people seeing local news reports and sending out warnings about the challenge in schools has helped perpetuate what is thought to be a hoax. And with the nebulous nature of what the challenge even is or stands for, disseminating bits of information that don't fully explain what's going on could be more damaging than the challenge itself.
After a lot of widespread coverage regarding the Momo Challenge, YouTube stepped up to the plate on Feb. 27, reassuring worried parents that videos promoting the challenge don't actually exist. The social media site shared a statement on its official Twitter page, telling users:
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.
According to The Atlantic, discussion of the Momo Challenge has gone global. Prior to U.S. reports, word spread to Latin America and Spanish-speaking countries. In summer 2018, various local news outlets throughout the U.S. were aggressively alerting parents of the Momo Challenge, per the publication. CNN also reported of UK outlets warning of the challenge. So, it appears the Momo Challenge has definitely made the rounds.
Thankfully, the Momo Challenge isn't real, but the conversation surrounding it is. Attributing reported suicides to a viral challenge that is actually a hoax takes away from talking about the real issue. Now that the reports of the challenge being a hoax are more abundant than the warnings of a what is now known to be a fake "challenge," hopefully people will be able to focus on issues that actually matter when it comes depression and suicidal thoughts, rather than looking for a nonexistent video.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. You can also reach out to the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 or the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386, or to your local suicide crisis center.