The “Momo Challenge” was a hoax—But why did experts fail to spot it?

By Jordan French Jordan French has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on March 12, 2019

Nowadays, social media networks are accessible to everyone.

It is, after all, a major part of our lives and we tend to rely on them for many things in life. The government uses it to run their countries, companies use them to run their businesses and individuals use it as a source of entertainment or to use it as their means of staying connected with their loved ones around the world. But at times, without our knowledge, our lives can be put into danger through these social media networks. Mostly, these heinous threats are initiated by the cyber bullies of the internet sphere.

One such threat that recently took attention globally was the Momo Challenge. This challenge was targeted towards youngsters who watch cartoons on YouTube. Initially, the concern regarding this game was raised in early 2018 but wasn’t brought under scrutiny until mid of 2018.  The challenge demanded the children save anonymous contact on their phone without telling anyone and then a message would pop up on their WhatsApp. From there the perpetrator directs its victim to do certain challenges which lead up to finally killing themselves. Many parents raised their concerns and even authorities were involved which turned Momo challenge into a global issue.

Recently, however, it’s been confirmed that the Momo Challenge was, in fact, a hoax. To put it more aptly, let’s call it an Urban Legend which the experts could not figure out earlier.

Media Illiteracy

The first time people heard about this challenge was through a parent who posted on a facebook group after listening to her son talk about a rumor going around in their school. That’s when the news started circulating around social media and all the concerned parents, without a single thought about its authenticity and decided to believe in that rumor.

Social Media Frenzy

Since there was no strong evidence regarding the challenge, many people started talking about it and it wasn’t too late that the challenge was trending all over social media platforms. Social media had a huge role to play in making the challenge seem real to the people, so much so that the experts had to look into it as well. But since it was just social media frenzy, no one took it seriously. You know how people these days turn something serious into a joke which mostly drives away the concerns of the official authority. That’s also another reason that the experts could not figure out the authenticity of the Momo Challenge because people all over the internet were either having a blast over the horrific image of Momo or they were busy spreading unauthenticated news on the social media. It is important that everyone is careful regarding what they share on the internet; otherwise, it will be just like adding fuel to the fire.

Official Authorities under Pressure

With the entire hullabaloo on the internet, parents showed serious concerns over the internet; mostly it was the newspapers who called the authorities asking them regarding the challenge. The authorities had no idea since no parent filed any case that had caused any suicides. The NSPCC told the Guardian it had received more calls from newspapers than from the concerned parents. This clearly shows that the authorities had no idea or evidence that would make them believe in such a challenge. It was the news reporters who have involved the authorities especially with a few unreported anonymous claims of youngsters killing themselves.

Anonymous Suicide Claims

When the Momo challenge hoax was at its peak, people started hearing about one suicide that occurred due to this challenge. As the news was circulating around social media, no one knew about the person who committed suicide. The whole fiasco had everybody questioning the same thing that who are the victims of this game? And even if the game is real, have they spread enough awareness to actually stop it from causing any harm? Since no real suicide claims came in, authorities took no action based on social media anonymous claims.

Blue Whale Challenge

With no evidence, it felt like it is fake news yet real because in 2016, a similar challenge called the Blue Whale Challenge was made by a Russian developer which actually led people towards killing themselves. This challenge was very much real because its creator, Philipp Budeikin is currently in a Russian jail for causing suicides of a number of people who played his suicide trap game called the Blue Whale Challenge. That’s why many parents and students, online, easily believed in the latest Momo challenge. But the only difference between the two is that the suicides related to Blue Whale Challenge were reported, unlike Momo Challenge. That’s another reason that the authorities did not take the fiasco seriously to seal it up as a hoax.

What Was the Concern of the Experts?

Many of us are tech-savvy individuals and understand what is real and what is not. But there are times when even we can be fooled as well. Similarly, the experts also need time and evidence to go through something under scrutiny to substantiate its authenticity. But, with such vague claims, the Momo challenge seemed fishy. The face of the game called Momo would appear in between the videos of cartoons such as Peppa Pig on YouTube. These videos are unofficial re-uploads, so through a massive junk of videos on YouTube, it is quite impossible to sift out those videos in which Momo’s horrific face is edited. Also, those people who claimed that Momo appears in between those children videos have not actually seen the video themselves; they are just focused on spreading rumors.

How should parents play their role in protecting their children?

Parents have a huge role to play in protecting their children from online games such as the Blue Whale Challenge, but sometimes, parents can be way overboard with protecting their children online. BBC mentioned Broadcaster Andy Robertson in their news report, who creates videos online as Geek Dad, said in a podcast that parents should not “share warnings that perpetuate and mythologize the story.” Parents could also work on giving their child good positive advice regarding their use of internet and social media platforms. Sometimes, even advising them does not work because certain situations are out of control. In that case, parents can use a parental monitoring app like XNSPY through which they can monitor their child’s online activities and all the messages that they receive through social media and messaging applications.

For more Grit Daily coverage of monitoring apps, check out our piece here.

By Jordan French Jordan French has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Journalist verified by Muck Rack verified

Jordan French is the Founder and Executive Editor of Grit Daily Group, encompassing Financial Tech Times, Smartech Daily, Transit Tomorrow, BlockTelegraph, Meditech Today, High Net Worth magazine, Luxury Miami magazine, CEO Official magazine, Luxury LA magazine, and flagship outlet, Grit Daily. The champion of live journalism, Grit Daily's team hails from ABC, CBS, CNN, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Forbes, Fox, PopSugar, SF Chronicle, VentureBeat, Verge, Vice, and Vox. An award-winning journalist, he was on the editorial staff at TheStreet.com and a Fast 50 and Inc. 500-ranked entrepreneur with one sale. Formerly an engineer and intellectual-property attorney, his third company, BeeHex, rose to fame for its "3D printed pizza for astronauts" and is now a military contractor. A prolific investor, he's invested in 50+ early stage startups with 10+ exits through 2023.

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