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What is the Momo Challenge and is it real?

Published On: Friday 1st of March 2019 11:08:07

Internet Saftey

What or who is the Momo challenge?

Okay, first of all. I'm going to start by saying that this article may seem a little out of place on my blog but I'd disagree with that. This topic is so tech related, you just have to look a bit deeper to see why.

So, what is the Momo Challenge? Well. That question in itself is hard to answer because it is and has been many things. I've heard of it being an app, a Whatsapp number, a Facebook profile and much more. I've heard it has ventured into popular kids games like Minecraft and Fortnight. I've seen the 'Momo' World in Roblox.

Is this all the same Momo? Is this all the same challenge? Is this all the same person? The answer to those questions is no, no and no.

Momo is viral. When something goes viral, people will jump on the bandwagon and begin adding Momo to their content in an attempt to ride the wave and get noticed.

I'm not saying your kids should be in Momo World on Roblox or that the world is free of trouble. I'm saying that any game that allows for content creation will be subject to this kind of thing.

Whenever you give people the power to create something in game and they will always do something like this. It makes a change from Minecraft blocks that spell swear words or look like giant penis' I suppose.

The image below (shown when the button is clicked so make sure your kids are not looking over your shoulder) is just one of many that has been circulating on social media over the last week in the UK. It's fairly new here but has been doing the rounds world wide for the best part of a year.

Warning - This image contains a picture of Momo and may be disturbing for young visitors.

I have hidden this instance of the image but it will appear again in the content below without this warning.

You can click the button to display it. Click it again to hide it.

Momo

Right, lets get into what Momo currently means to the UK. The story goes like this:

"A terrifying woman/creature known as Momo has began hacking into kids channels on Youtube Kids. She appears halfway through shows such as Peppa Pig as to avoid being detected by adults. Once on screen, she attempts to get your children to contact her via Whatsapp or Facebook by threatening to hurt family members. She also warns the child not to say anything to their parents or she will kill them.

When your child has made contact, Momo sends them challenges to complete. Refusal to complete the challenges are met with threats of violence towards family members. Challenges range from taking tablets and cutting themselves, to the final challenge of taking their own life."


Now I'm not going to lie. I have kids and this terrifies me. I first saw this on Facebook post and as a web developer, questions instantly came to mind about this post:

  • Where did this even all come from? Wtf is Momo? what is this creepy face?
  • The post claimed it came on halfway through an episode... so that sounds like a Youtube advert to me.
  • My daughter watches quite a bit of Youtube - has she heard of this? How could I ask her without making her aware that something was amiss?

Luckily, a big part of being a web developer is Googling things. You get good at it. and so off I went in search of the origins of Momo.

The origins of the Momo Challenge

Okay, lets first tackle the first point on our list. What is the original Momo? Well to answer that, we need to delve into the land of urban legends.

Where did Momo come from?

The first mentions of Momo seem to arise from a Facebook chat in Japan between a few friends. during this chat, an unknown number was posted to the group and the participants were challenged to but advised against, contacting the number.

Once added to your contacts in Whatsapp, the profile picture for the number would show the picture of Momo which is doing the rounds today. If you contact the number, it is said that you will get very aggressive and threatening replies, disturbing and violent imagery, and claims to have personal information about you such as your route to work, employment details and family members names.

A little later on, 2 more phone numbers for Momo started appearing online. Both South American countries this time, the story began to spread and now a search for 'Momo' on Facebook yields hundreds of results, all baring this same profile picture.

Creepy? Yes! True? Probably not.

All 3 of the original numbers do not connect now and screenshots that feature any form of conversation whilst clearly showing the number are hard to come by.

Almost everything that is real on the internet seems to be accompanied by video or images to back it up in this day and age so the lack of actual evidence of interaction with Momo is strange.

What about the picture? Where did that come from?

Okay. The picture that has become the face of the Momo challenge. Where did it come from?

Well, according to know your meme, it first appeared online in an Instagram post by a japanese user, before being shared to 4chan and then the /r/creepy thread of Reddit.

The image itself (as shown) is a sculpture by a special effects company in Japan and is known as 'Mother Bird'. It is available for view in the Vanilla Gallery, Tokyo. It's important to note that the studio and gallery have absolutely zero connection with the Momo challenge.
Although these pictures were originally posted last year, it only seems to be now that the picture has made its way over to the UK.

Mother Bird Sculpture

It's definitely real because my kids know about it...

Yep, so did mine. I asked my 8 year old if she knew who Momo was. Her face dropped and she said "Yes. It is on Youtube".

I immediately hit the roof! The rumours were right! it was on Youtube! Youtube had clearly been negligent and allowed adverts promoting the Momo challenge to be shown to my 8 year old! Right?! Wrong.

I asked where has she seen Momo on Youtube. "It comes up on the suggested videos" she said... Off I went to see if I could find Momo videos being suggested on her account. And I guess I did... kind of.

What she'd seen was a challenge video by someone who claimed to have contacted Momo at 3am. She hadn't watched the video as the thumbnail featured the Momo face and it scared her.

I watched the video myself and it is clearly fake but did use some faceswapping feature (Snapchat maybe?) that allowed the face of whoever he was talking with, to have the same long smile and bulging eyes that the picture has.

So, at first glance, this is definitely not something that should be shown as a suggested video for someone who mainly watches cartoons and pranks but at the same time, not a suicide promoting video.

However, when you consider that the video was actually tagged as a prank video, it suddenly makes more sense as to why it showed up in the first place. The same algorithm which results in her being suggested killer clown prank videos or the like.

Momo Facebook post

But the school said it was real! They even sent a letter home!

Again, so did mine. But mine actually handled it really well. In the letter, they refused to mention the challenge by name in order to prevent giving it any more exposure than it already has. Instead, they decided to concentrate on the real danger behind this whole topic - Internet safety for our children.

When something like this goes viral, it relies on people spreading it. The kids at my daughters school right now all know about Momo. I even saw two kids no older than 8, running down the street yesterday with their arms in the air and shouting "Nooooo! It's Momo!!!!" - Have these kids been contacted by Momo? I doubt it. Did they hear about Momo from another kid? Much more likely.

I understand the irony of saying that as I sit here writing a post about it but I've seen Police departments in America spread the image and name despite saying that they've received zero reports of it. Although one may say this is great and raised awareness anyway, another may say it spreads the name and the message to an area which may have never even seen it before.

But Momo has hacked into loads of kids games and apps!

Right, this sort of claim really annoys me. The Twitter post below is an example of false information. It has not 'Hacked' into these applications at all.

The word 'hacked' is thrown about far too much now days and seems to be used as a generic term for seeing something online and not really knowing why it is there or how it got there.

As mentioned earlier, content creation games will always be affected by viral trends as people attempt to use the hype to attract visitors to their world or content.

I'll work through and explain how (if at all) you might be able to see Momo in these games.

Momo in Fortnite

Lets begin with Fortnite. I've found absolutely no evidence of Momo in Fortnite. Youtube videos are either jokes (at least from the screen shot I've shown) or blatant Photoshop jobs as thumbnails but with no actual evidence in the video.

Surely we'd have a screen shot at this point or a video? No? That's because it doesn't exist.

Momo in Fortnite

Momo in Minecraft / Momo in Roblox

Minecraft next - It's important to remember that Minecraft is very much community driven. Private servers are available and people have written 'Mods' - in other words, a modification to the way game looks and works.

An example of a site where a Momo skin can be downloaded can be found here .

As you can see, it's not hard to find something Momo related and put it into the game. The same applies for Roblox, where worlds and content can be altered freely.

Now if your child is playing any game on a private server, this isn't about Momo or Minecraft at all. It's about making sure you know who your kids are playing with online.

Just like the sex rooms that started appearing in Roblox a little while back, don't assume something that seems to be aimed at kids is free from adult content.

The good news is, in between me seeing the Momo room on Roblox and writing this article, the content has now been modded and deleted. Just shows that the companies do listen and monitor where they can.

Momo Minecraft Skin

Momo in Youtube

And now Youtube - This one is a strange one as I've attempted to get the Momo challenge to appear to me but I've not yet managed to make it happen. Youtube themselves have also said that they have found nothing Momo related in their videos.

This doesn't mean Youtube is completely safe though. It's been suspected that sex offenders may be using Youtube to share links to child abuse images in what seem like completely innocent videos - more on that by clicking here.

I've also seen some horrible screen shots of videos of Peppa pig that clearly are not for children and have lots of violence in them. These are reported to come from Youtube but finding the actual videos seems to be more difficult that is being suggested.

I dare say the content is out there (just like you can find pornographic images of Disney characters if you look for them) but to say it is appearing on Youtube kids is a completely different thing.

And even if you've seen 'evidence' in the shape of other Youtube videos claiming to have proof, this is very easy to fake. The video below shows a fake encounter with Momo happening on the Youtube App.

Their are also lots of Momo apps on the PlayStore, though most of these seem to revolve around shooting Momos or having a fun horror call with her (is that fun?) but nothing that would suggest it encourages you to kill youself.

It could be out there as an APK I guess but then would a 6 year old know how to install it? The only other thing I could think of it some kind of Malware from a link..

Great! So it's all a hoax! Nothing to worry about?

Well, if your child is on the internet, you will always have something to worry about. Momo is just the latest in what will always be a constant onslaught of threats and online danger.

A similar situation occurred in Russia recently, where teens were targeted with completing the 'Blue Whale Challenge'.

This challenge involved communicating with an unknown person who would act as the 'Controller' - For 50 days, challenges would be given to the subject. These began light with things like waking up at 4:20am or watching a horror film.

Eventually, the challenges would get more severe. One of which involved using a razor to carve a blue whale into your arm. The final challenge is the act of suicide.

The creator of the game has recently been sentenced to 3 years in prison for inciting suicide .

The take home from this is to not get wrapped up in whatever the challenge or online threat of the day is.

Try and teach your children that the internet can be a scary place and that they must always tell you when they see something that scares or bothers them.

  • Teach them that the principles of 'Stranger Danger' still apply online and that they should always let you know if somebody unfamiliar contacts them.
  • Don't rely on parental controls to protect your children. New ways of beating and getting past them are always being found and just because you have controls in place, doesn't mean you don't have to be aware of their activities.
  • Don't be afraid to say no - I had a right drama when I banned Roblox from my house but a few days later, we'd forgotten all about it and moved onto something else.
  • Get to know who your child plays with - Someone doesn't have to physically be their friend in order to be an online friend. Some of the best gaming partners I had were people I've never met. Just be sure to listen to the conversations that are taking place and investigate any messages that are being sent. Make them block anyone who you're not sure about.

Hopefully that's helped to dispel some of the myths around Momo and what it is. If you have any further questions, just leave a comment or get in touch. I'm also happy to speak at local primary / secondary schools about this issue (no charge).