An online suicide challenge ‘game’ may have spread to England, sparking fears among UK parents. One mother in Manchester said she was “deeply alarmed” after learning her seven-year-old son had upset several schoolmates with threats linked to the Momo challenge.
The woman, who has not been identified, was told by a teacher that her son had made three other children cry by saying Momo would visit them at night and kill them.
Posting in the Love Westhoughton group on Facebook, she wrote: “When we got home, I spoke to him about this and he told me that some kids at school had told him to look at the Momo challenge. When we watched a video, the Momo character told him to tell everyone to fear Momo or it would kill him in his sleep. So I have one very frightened little boy and some deep concerns about the kids in his school.”
What is the Momo challenge?
WhatsApp users are encouraged to engage with Momo, usually represented by an image of an eerie woman with straggly hair, bulging eyes and an unnerving grin. ‘Momo’ then sends disturbing images and various challenges, including instructions to harm themselves or others.
There have been reports that some people have been ‘doxed’ into self-harm – the term used when someone hacks into private information and threatens to share it online publicly. It is also believed criminals are using the Momo challenge as a way to steal data and blackmail people.
It seems like the game originated in Mexico, although the Momo avatar is of a sculpture created by a special effects company in Japan. The image has appeared in the games Grand Theft Auto 5 and Minecraft.
Why are parents worried?
In September 2018, two children in Colombia – a 12-year-old girl and a boy aged 16 – were reported to have killed themselves after playing the Momo challenge. The deaths of a 12-year-old girl in Argentina and an 18-year-old in India have also been linked to the gruesome game.
The Momo challenge is believed to have been shared in other countries, including Argentina, France, Germany and Spain, prompting several official warnings. In Montana, US, a 12-year-old boy said a message on WhatsApp had threatened his friends by name. A spokesman for Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office said: “The child was told his friends would be killed if he didn’t do the tasks.”
Similarity to Blue Whale Game
Although the game originated on WhatsApp, there are reports of it spreading to Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube. Some parents are concerned over its similarity to the Blue Whale Game, which was linked to 130 suicides in Russia. In 2016, the game’s founder Philipp Budeikin was sentenced to three years in jail by a Siberian court after he admitted inciting at least 16 teenage girls to kill themselves.
What can parents do?
It can be difficult to monitor your kids’ online activity, especially as they get older and have their own smartphones. Make sure the lines of communication are open – find opportunities to talk to them about apps they’re using, games they are playing and websites they find interesting.
Don’t worry too much
And try not to worry. Online games and social media companies are under constant pressure to make the online world safer for children, while some web security experts say most of the telephone numbers associated with Momo are now out of service. The link between the game and the suicides has also not been officially verified.