Updated March 1, 2019, 3:00 p.m. ET: Don’t panic — there’s no need for you to confiscate your kids’ tablets and screens just yet. Fears about Momo Challenge, which spread like wildfire over the past couple of weeks, may have been misguided. According to the Atlantic, the Momo Challenge is a hoax, meant mainly to drum up anxiety amongst concerned parents. So far, there’s no proof tying any deaths to the challenge, and YouTube told the Atlantic they haven’t confirmed any Momo Challenge videos on the platform; however, the company reassured readers that if it does, it’ll make sure to take them down immediately.
Now, this doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t be diligent in vetting the kinds of content kids consume on YouTube. It’s still best to know where the videos are coming from and to have regular conversations with children about what they’re watching and if they’ve seen anything upsetting or scary.
If you’ve logged onto Twitter or Facebook and have seen posts from your friends freaking out about the Momo Challenge, you’re not alone. Thousands of parents are concerned about the latest online scheme infiltrating YouTube clips of popular kids shows and games — such as Peppa Pig and Fortnite — to terrify and, in some instances, encourage children to harm themselves.
The Momo Challenge, named after a horrifying Japanese sculpture of a birdlike woman with bulging eyes and an exaggerated smile, coaxes kids to search for and text a number on WhatsApp. Once they’ve engaged, children will receive messages with instructions to perform a variety of tasks, from watching a horror film to slitting their throats. The challenge, which has been around for more than a year, has reportedly been tied to two children’s deaths, though authorities around the globe state that there haven’t been many reported incidents of self-harm and that those deaths may not have resulted because of the game, according to Forbes.
— therealamyx🦋 (@yesamybcx) February 27, 2019
But unlike the Blue Whale Challenge, the Momo Challenge doesn’t just target teens and older kids through social media; preschool-age children are also at risk of exposure to the frightening scheme via seemingly child-friendly YouTube videos. A British primary school posted a warning for parents on Facebook saying someone had altered Peppa Pig videos to feature “violence and offensive language.” Other clips showcase images of Momo and say menacing things, such as “Momo is going to kill you.”
“Examples we have noticed in school include asking the children to turn the gas on or to find and take tablets,” the post read.
While there may not be substantial evidence tying the Momo Challenge to self-harm, parents should educate children about safe online practices and ensure that the videos their kids are consuming are legitimate. Search for videos and clips of your kids’ favorite shows on verified YouTube channels, avoiding anything uploaded by casual users. Keep the conversation about technology and screen time open with kids, asking them what they’re watching, who they’re engaging with and if they’ve seen anything that makes them uncomfortable. Creating trust and open communication can empower children to say something if they see or hear something dangerous.
That sick in the mouth feeling when you sit down to talk to your 7 year old about #MomoChallenge and he knows all about her!!
— Matt Nundy (@Matthew_Nundy) February 26, 2019
Additionally, parents should report any suspicious content encouraging violence or advertising the Momo Challenge to YouTube, Instagram or other platforms. Forbes reports that YouTube has already begun “marking videos including Momo content.”
As always, if you’re concerned about your child’s mental and physical health, consult a professional immediately. Resources such as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline are available to help.
This story was originally published on February 27, 2019, and was updated on March 1, 2019.