An alarming internet trend called the “Momo Challenge” has prompted several Region-area educators to contact parents this week notifying them of a potentially disturbing game encouraging self-harm and suicide.
However, the trend which initially circulated on social media websites like Twitter and Facebook, has led to increasing confusion and has been labeled fake by some school leaders and social media websites. Concerned about the viral trend? Here’s what you need to know about the “Momo Challenge.”
What is the “Momo Challenge”?
The challenge, as it’s been circulated on social media, involves the appearance of a Japanese doll with dark, stringy hair, bulging eyes and a cheek-to-cheek smile in videos of popular entertainment mediums appealing to children, like Peppa Pig or the video game Fortnite.
The doll is said to suggest challenges — encouraging its viewers to kill themselves, their friends or turn on a stove — and threaten to harm any that don’t complete the challenge.
Beyond its spread on popular social media like Twitter and Facebook, the Momo is also believed to encourage children to interact through the popular instant message app WhatsApp.
Some are debunking the global internet trend as a hoax. YouTube tweeted a statement Tuesday the notion of the circulating videos as unfounded.
“We want to clear something up regarding the Momo Challenge: We’ve seen no recent evidence of videos promoting the Momo Challenge on YouTube,” the video giant tweeted. “Videos encouraging harmful and dangerous challenges are against our policies.”
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
What administrators are saying about the viral trend
The internet rumors have led to some confusion among teachers, parents and administrators.
As news of the viral trend spreads, images of the Momo doll have circulated, sparking fear especially in younger children.
Several Region area schools have sent letters home to parents, some addressing the doll and its subsequent appeals to harm friends and fellow students as “fake” and “made-up,” while others, unaware of the viral hoax, have warned parents of hackers tapping into children's’ videos.
The School City of Hobart sent a letter to parents Wednesday warning of the Momo doll targeting children on social media.
“The ‘MoMo Challenge’ encourages kids to do horrible things to themselves or to others,” the Hobart letter warned. “If not, then the ‘Momo’ will come to hurt them. This is not true. It is all fake, but younger kids may not understand this.”
The Metropolitan School District of Boone Township notified parents Thursday of the trend saying, “the ‘Momo Challenge’ has targeted all age levels, but is more disturbing to elementary and middle school students. Parents are encouraged to speak about the dangers of the ‘Momo Challenge’ to their children and if any incident occur to report them to local police and/or school officials.”
How parents are reacting to Momo
Kelly Manis, director of “My School” Child Care and Learning Center in Crown Point, said she was prompted to post a letter in her school warning of the social media craze after multiple parents shared their young students’ disturbed response to the Momo character.
She said her own daughter had searched the trend Wednesday and the character continued appearing in her searches throughout the evening.
Regardless of whether or not the video trend is a hoax, she said she’s seen more than enough evidence on Facebook and from parents to cause concern.
“I’ve been working with children for over 30 years and I thought ‘Who would want to target children?’” Manis said.
A growing trend of disturbing content going viral
This is not the first time an internet trend has prompted school administrators to notify parents of concerning games targeting children online.
Just last month, Lake Ridge New Tech Schools warned parents of an interactive Japanese internet game labeled for mature audiences but appealing to children that contained blatant references to self-harm.
About a year ago, administrators across the country warned parents of a Blue Whale Challenge, that similarly encouraged suicide. This challenge, like the “Momo Challenge” was debunked as fake.
Robert Bailey, a parent with students in the School City of Hobart, took issue with school districts further perpetuating the rumor of the “Momo Challenge” through sending letters home to parents.
“They’re taking these fear and giving them gravity,” Bailey said. “They’re making them serious and they’re making them real.”
Boone Township Superintendent Nathan Kleefisch said in cases of internet safety, his district always errs on the side of providing parents the most information possible.
“If we hear something and we fail to communicate with parents, we’re doing them a disservice,” Kleefisch said.
What parents can do if they're concerned about the challenge
In her letter to parents, Hobart Superintendent Peggy Buffington included a list of internet safety tips, encouraging students to report any internet trend that makes them feel unsafe.
Among the tips, parents are advised to establish a phone tracking software for their children, avoid using their children’s name in social media posts and keep a distance both online and in person between anyone considered a stranger.
Above all, administrators agree, internet safety begins with having conversations with your children about their activity online.
“This is an ongoing issue with internet safety,” Buffington said, referencing viral trend among children like the "Momo Challenge." “A talk about internet safety can be done anytime.”
The Indiana State Police will make an Internet Safety Presentation later this month at St. Paul’s Lutheran School. The presentation, addressing apps, websites and video games will be at 6:30 p.m. on March 12.