Momo challenge: why are we so scared of it?

2019-03-02 00:45:26

ANALYSIS: The character dubbed as "Momo" is ghastly to look at.

It's a terrifying bird-like creature, with bulging eyes, a Voldemort-like nose and a joker-like mouth that curls up into creepy grin.

Its long dark hair is plastered to its gaunt face which is reminiscent of the child in the supernatural horror film The Ring.

The image of "Momo" is currently popping up all over social media. But it's Momo's rumoured challenge, which aims to threaten children and encourage them to self harm, that's terrifying parents across the globe.

The challenge itself is thought to be a hoax that's gained traction through social media recently. Screenshots of Momo seem to be popping up everywhere. However actual interactions of Momo are hard to come by, and YouTube has said there were no Momo challenge videos on its platform.


Although screenshots of the Momo's face seem to be what's cropping up online, there are other images that show more of the doll.

It has boobs but no real body. Instead its arms develop into chicken-like feet with five toes and claws.

The full image is possibly scarier and more disturbing than just the photo of its face.

Overseas media have reported that the original sculpture was made by a Japanese special effects company.

It's thought to have been displayed at Tokyo's Vanilla Gallery in 2016.

However the 'Momo challenge' itself is separate. It seems to have surfaced in 2018 after screenshots of its face began popping up on the messenger app WhatsApp.

Recently, reports have said the image appears randomly in children's videos online and threatens them.

However, actual interactions with Momo are hard to come by. YouTube has also released a statement saying there were no Momo challenge videos on its platform.

Despite the growing evidence that it's just a hoax, it has still alarmed parents and authorities around the globe.

Agencies in both New Zealand and overseas have spoken out about it and provided parents with tips on how check the security on online devices.


When clinical psychologist Dr Kirsty Ross, from Massey University, first saw the image of Momo on the news, she said she was "pretty horrified".

She said it "definitely looked like something out of a horror movie".

Kiwi mother Caiarama Ashby took to Facebook this week to warn other parents after her children saw Momo 'pop up like an ad' while watching Fortnite videos online.

She said her children were overwhelmed and upset by it. "It breaks my heart knowing my kids witnessed something so horrible."

On Twitter, many users have labelled it "creepy", "sick and terrifying" and that "even as an adult this scares me".

But the majority of the disgust and horror people have expressed online seems to stem from those shocked at the concept of the challenge, and that it was said to target young, vulnerable children.

Ross said some young children might not have the cognitive ability to differentiate between what's real and what's not, and are potentially more vulnerable and able to be manipulated.

In Psychology Today, medical sociologist Robert Bartholomew wrote that the Momo challenge was a social panic driven by misinformation and a grain of truth.

"The Momo Challenge should be seen for what it is: the latest incarnation of a longstanding fear dating back to when young children first strayed from their caves and into a world rife with real dangers," Bartholomew wrote.

A mother wrote on Twitter saying she asked her 3-year-old if she knew who Momo was. Her daughter replied saying "yes, it's a really scary girl". "I'm not happy", the mother wrote.

A father said online how he now knows the "sick in the mouth feeling" after sitting down to talk to his 7-year-old about the challenge and finding out his son already knew about it.

Kim Kardashian-West even posted on her Instagram story about the challenge this week, urging parents to "please monitor what your children are watching".

To reiterate, the challenge itself is likely to be a hoax. But it's also not the first time nasty challenges have gained traction online and threatened to harm children.

Another social media challenge called "Blue Whale" targeted young people, encouraging them to complete self-harm challenges and eventually suicide.


YouTuber Philip DeFranco, who has more than 6.3 million subscribers, posted a video on YouTube calling the Momo challenge a "panicky hoax preying on ignorant parents".

YouTube responded to DeFranco's video, saying: "Thanks, @PhillyD, for debunking the Momo Challenge and encouraging parents to flag inappropriate content to us."

Regardless of whether it's a hoax, parents have been encouraged to talk to their children using the internet and encourage them to speak up if they see anything online they shouldn't be seeing.

If you notice something, "speak up". Children need to know they "don't have to deal with it on [their] own", Ross said.

It's possibly also a reminder for parents to check the security of their online devices and apps.

According to Snopes, an internet fact-checking source, a good tip for parents was to not necessarily dwell on any specific rumours but to advise their children to be responsible and let them know if they encounter anything online that appeared frightening or threatening.

Cyber Safety Expert Denise DeRosa, says the challenge, whether real or rumoured, serves as a reminder for parents to know what their kids are doing online, Snopes reported.

Paediatric psychologist Dr Meghan Walls told Snopes that "preemptively addressing something with your kid is always better".


Some things you can do to help your children stay safe online include:

* Install software on your computer which either blocks restricted content or monitors activity so that you can review online behaviour. * Know who your children are making contact with online.  If they are not your children's actual friends then question their cyber friendship. * Know which social networking sites your child is on and what information they are posting. * Check that your children understand the dangers of posting personal information on social networking sites. * Do not allow your children to use the computer in private areas of your home. * If you or your child becomes suspicious about a person online, stop contact immediately.

Netsafe has plenty of advice on staying safe in cyberspace. For more information visit their website


Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737

Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland

Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email or online chat

Samaritans - 0800 726 666

Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757

Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

If it is an emergency click here to find the number for your local crisis assessment team. In a life-threatening situation call 111.

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