What is behind MOMO?
Updated: Apr 4, 2019
After the unsettling phenomenon of Blue Whale in 2017 and 2018, the world wide web is now a scenario of another online challenge involving what is a frightening and disturbing figure for both parents and educators alike. It is called Momo, and its appearance is terrifying: bulging eyes, pale skin, and a sinister smile. Its image originally gained attention through WhatsApp, and became widespread as a viral challenge. Initially, it seemed to be innocent game, but then started to become serious..
Several WhatsApp users said that if they sent a message to Momo from their cell phone, the response came with violent and aggressive images. In fact, some people say that they have had messages answered with threats. However, some authorities and experts have warned that this could be something far more serious than a simple online distraction.
Recently, parents and educators have reported that this character has been included in cartoons targeted at little ones, such as Peppa Pig and Baby Shark songs, but the critical point is that the content of Momo's message is disturbing, and usually proposes that the children should perform several nonsensical challenges or, even worse, encourages them to think of self-harm. Several cases have been reported, in South America, the United States and Europe, including the UK, where parents have mentioned disturbing content inciting suicide. However, in the UK, The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Samaritans have explained that the stories posted about suicide are aimed at creating panic and hysteria on the web. “Currently we’re not aware of any verified evidence in this country or beyond linking Momo to suicide,” said the Samaritans spokesperson. “What’s more important is parents and people who work with children concentrating on broad online safety guidelines.” (The Guardian Online, March 2019)
After several complaints, the MOMO image is not allowed on the YouTube Kids app, and they provide guarantees to exclude it from YouTube Kids content. However, if you see this figure inserted into children's content, please report it, and do not encourage or allow your children to download apps or post photos duplicating the Momo effect.
In my point of view, there is no logical sense in inciting fear in children using a scary and disturbing figure; even for me as an adult, it is definitely a quite repulsive image. Basically, the origin of the image is from Japan. It belongs to a sculpture of a bird woman which was exhibited in 2016 in an art gallery in Ginza, a luxurious district of Tokyo, as part of an exhibition about ghosts and spectres in a horror museum.
There is therefore no need to panic. The Neuro-Psychologist Deborah Moss, emphasizes that caution is the key word in this situation; check what your children are watching, check whether these videos are from official channels (for example, Peppa Pig), or, if your children have a tablet or other mobile device, check whether there is an app with this title. Unfortunately, there are apps that create the MOMO face effect in photos, and they are available both on the iOS and Android platforms. In addition, we should also instruct our children to block any messages on WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook or the like which arrive with Momo in the name. A calm open conversation is always an effective action.
Another golden tip from a specialist in communication, Fabio Malline, suggests that parents should stop searching for information on this topic on Google or YouTube. The more people searching about Momo on both platforms, automatically bringing up the topic and content to the top, the more likely it is to been seen on the search platform called Google Trends, while on Youtube it affects an automatic utility that refers to users’ personal preference. Let’s keep our eyes open through our children's screens.
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