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Is it an internet hoax? 'No reports' of Momo challenge to authorities

CyberSafeIreland said that it has been “inundated” by enquiries about Momo – mainly from the media.

Image: Dominic Lipinski/PA Images

THE MOMO CHALLENGE has caught the media and public’s attention this week – but it’s uncertain that the phenomenon had been putting children at risk.

Campaigners and factcheckers have claimed that there have been no reports of children engaging or paying heed to these posts, which have been shared widely in the past, but resurfaced over the weekend.

Mental health advocates have now said that in the act of the media covering the warnings has in itself raised the risk the “challenge” poses to children.

Today, CyberSafeIreland said that it “has been inundated by enquiries about Momo, mainly from the media”.

“We made it very clear from the start that we had seen no evidence of Irish children being harmed by this,” it said in a statement.

Although there is no factual evidence describing how or whether people get these messages, the phenomenon is described as a message received through social media, such as WhatsApp or YouTube, where people are asked to take part in “challenges”, which include requests that they self-harm. 

An image of a woman’s head with bulging eyes accompanies the messages. The woman’s head, which sits on bird’s legs, is a piece of artwork called “Mother Bird” and is the work of a Japanese artist from the special effects company Link Factory. 

According to officials, neither the Link Factory nor the artist are affiliated with the challenge; it’s uncertain how the image became linked to the challenge, or what caused it to go viral.

Timeline

In February, schools and police departments began posting warnings on social media of the the Momo challenge. On Sunday, the Police Service of Northern Ireland warned that “the Momo game” was “doing the rounds” online, citing YouTube.

This week, media companies from around the world have covered the warnings to the challenge, emphasising that children should ignore the game.

Yesterday, TV reality celebrity and social media star Kim Kardashian joined those calls, and posted an image of concerned comments left online by parents to her Instagram account. She tagged YouTube in the post, asking “Please help!”

But YouTube says that it has “no recent evidence of videos promoting the Momo challenge on YouTube”.

“Videos encouraging harmful and dangerous challenges are against our policies.

If you see videos including harmful or dangerous challenges on YouTube, we encourage you to flag them to us immediately. These challenges are clearly against our Community Guidelines.

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An Garda Síochána told TheJournal.ie that it had “no reports of any crimes in relation to the Momo challenge”.

“We remind internet users and parents in particular to exercise care while children are online,” it said, directing users to information on its website.

CyberSafeIreland has said that until this week, “we have not come across children even talking about this in the classroom, even though the concept has been around for some months”.

But after this week’s media coverage, it is “the talk of the playground in many Irish schools”, it said, and added that many principals have contacted them looking for advice.

We made the reluctant decision to stop engaging with the media on this, as we reached the conclusion that we were only feeding the monster as such, which wasn’t helping anyone.

It added:

We have seen nothing to suggest that the Momo Challenge is anything more than a hoax that has ‘grown legs’ through a lot of circular media reporting. It does certainly exist as an idea, or meme (an image which is usually funny, that is copied and spread rapidly online), but that is most likely all that it is.

The group warned that it’s always possible that through social media, messaging apps, or games, a child can be contacted by someone and asked to do “just about anything” – adding that the “Momo game” doesn’t pose a new threat in that way, so normal online safety good practices still apply.

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC)’s Policy Coordinator, Fiona Jennings said that “concerns raised in recent days have created conversations around the importance of striving to ensure children and young people are safe online”.

“Parents and carers can help keep their children safe online by speaking with them in generic terms about what they see or experience, about inappropriate content and about what they can do if they see something which upsets them.”

CyberSafeIreland doesn’t recommend that parents speak to their children about the “challenge”, unless their children ask specifically about it or they have strong suspicions that they have heard about it.

Their programme director Cliona Curley said: “If they have heard about Momo and come home asking about it, then the best thing that you can do is explain that actually it is a nasty idea that has gone viral.

Momo does not exist. If someone tells you that you are cursed if you don’t do something, this is not true.

“Acknowledge their worries and praise them to the high heavens for coming and telling you about it,” she said.

If you need to talk, contact:

  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.ie
  • National Suicide Helpline 1800 247 247 – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement)
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie – (suicide, self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

Warning signs for youth suicide can be found here.

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