Debunking and Exposing The Momo Challenge

Sergei VolfCyber Bullying and Online Harassment, Cybersecurity and Vulnerabilities

Momo Challenge Scaring Parents

Sensitivity Warning: This post mentions suicide, self-harm, and includes graphic stories and possible graphic images.

What Is The Momo Challenge?

The Momo Challenge is essentially the new Slender Man. Unlike Slender Man, which was the viral craze created on a website known as Creepy Pasta, Momo does not originate from one website or another. Instead, the strange doll is on a variety of social media networks including WhatsApp, and YouTube Kids.

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There is currently not one person behind it, and with its virility, it’s possible that multiple people can take part in this prank. Once the doll appears in a video, it is a freeze frame of the doll as a child’s voice sings, “Momo, momo, momo is going to kill you.” It then urges users to add it’s username on WhatsApp. From there, the doll threatens that it will attack viewers unless they add it on WhatsApp and follow it’s instructions.

Risks of The Momo Challenge

Instructions from the doll include downloading its image, or video, self-harm, waking up at random times of the night, and other malicious tasks. Obviously, this poses serious problems not only for one’s self-being but data privacy, too. A fictional scenario might involve a phisher or hacker using the Momo image to get the credit card information from a child’s parent, passwords, usernames and much more. Due to end-to-end encryption on WhatsApp messages — discovering the origin of any message can be difficult.

This is not only a matter of cybersecurity but a new form of cyberbullying. Hypothetically of course, as there is no reported instance of this yet. A cyberbully could use the challenge as a way to target a victim or push their peers into doing something that is harmful.

Debunking The Momo Challenge

The Momo challenge is said to have sparked a suicide of a twelve-year-old in Argentina last year. However, Yahoo News UK reports that there has not been any evidence to connect the death to the Momo challenge.

Contrary to what some, including YouTube, say is a hoax, several police departments have warned parents through their social media pages about this challenge. Currently, police are investigating an 18-year-old’s suicide and the relation to the challenge. Police hacked the WhatsApp account she was contacted on and believe it is another adolescent who urged the victim to take her own life.

Regarding YouTube, this is not the first time this year that the video social networking site is linked to the imagery of self-harm and children. The YouTube Kids app had videos with images of cartoon characters graphically depicting suicide attempts like drinking bleach.

How The Momo Doll Challenge Started

Momo herself is a doll with bulging eyes, a toothless grin, chicken legs for arms, and long black hair. Its eerie appearance and the call-to-action of the doll is similar to Samara from the horror movie The Ring.

The doll is located in Japan and created by artist Midori Hiyashi. While Hiyashi’s intentions were to make the doll terrifying, he most likely did not intend for harmful behaviors. The doll first made its first public appearance at an art show in Tokyo. It launched like a rocket online someone posted the image to Reddit.

The entire Momo campaign seems to copy various highlights from The Ring, the Netflix movie Birdbox, the Blue Whale Challenge, and Slenderman mixed into one. For anyone who does not know, The Blue Whale challenge, it was another self-harm messaging app campaign.

What Parents Can Do About Social Media Challenges

Social media changes by the minute. It’s hard for parents to stay constant with it unless they themselves are up to date with the latest trends. However, it’s important to explain fact and fiction and what is and isn’t real.

Throughout my Facebook timeline, one of my friends posted that their child saw Momo. I reached out to her for a comment on the situation. Angela H says, that her three-year-old son did see the “creepy lady” one time while watching a Peppa Pig video on YouTube Kids. However, he did not know what she was saying in the video. Unlike her son, her thirteen-year-old daughter has not witnessed the Momo challenge and did not know what it was.

Allan Buxton, Director of Forensics at SecureData says, “Hoax or not, this is a good opportunity for parents to discuss a few issues with their children. Anyone who would ask you to harm yourself or others is neither a friend nor role model, especially if they’re asking you to take such steps in secret. Anyone who asks such things should be brought to your parents’ or another authority’s attention, like a teacher or school resource officer. Moreover, it’s a good reminder that parents should monitor their child’s access to the Internet and communication apps.”

The quick changing world online media might make it difficult to keep up. However, Google launched its Google Interland service to fill that void. This service is designed for school-aged children to learn about the internet and some of the pitfalls and risks they might run into along the way.

Conclusion

Whether or not it is a hoax, cyberbullying is very serious. Michigan is the first state to make it a crime. However, other states still trail behind this type of legislation. If you need help unmasking a cyberbully, contact us at 1-800-288-1407.