The Momo Challenge has hit New Zealand, causing widespread panic amongst Kiwi parents. In this article we separate the fact from the fiction when it comes to Momo, giving you a non-sensationalised account of the facts, and providing you with helpful and practical tips to ensure your family stays safe online:
- What is the Momo Challenge?
- Is the Momo Challenge real?
- Should parents be worried about the Momo Challenge?
- Practical tips to keep your children safe from the Momo Challenge
What is the Momo Challenge?
The character Momo is a disturbing looking bird-like woman, with bulging eyes and a lipless smile stretched across her face. She appears online and threatens viewers to partake in harrowing tasks and challenges.
Reports of Momo appearances have mainly been through WhatsApp. Young children receive a message from an unknown number, threatening that they will be killed in their sleep unless they reply. They then engage in a conversation with the Momo character who challenges them to complete a series of chilling tasks, from self-harm to suicide. If they refuse to do the challenges, Momo threatens to hurt them and their family.
Based on a Japanese statue called ‘Mother Bird’, the fearful character first appeared online in 2018, when it was reported that a 12-year-old girl in Argentina committed suicide after taking the Momo challenge, although this link was never confirmed. Momo has reappeared in the news after recently appearing on the phones and screens of children across the globe, including those here in New Zealand. There have been reports of Momo appearing on YouTube and online gaming sites targeted towards children, such as Peppa Pig videos and the popular Fortnight game.
Is the Momo challenge real?
There is no doubt that the panic of Momo is very real, although actual documented footage of the Momo challenge happening in New Zealand is non-existent at present.
Many Kiwi kids are returning home from school terrified after seeing Momo on their friends’ phones or on their own social media newsfeeds, but what they’re potentially seeing is the shared screenshot of the formidable creature, rather than being victims of a ‘Momo attack’ themselves.
ReignBot, an investigative YouTuber has been quoted in the press as saying: "Finding screenshots of interactions with Momo is nearly impossible and you'd think there'd be more for such a supposedly widespread thing."
People have reported seeing Momo on YouTube, and whilst this may be the case, YouTube yesterday confirmed via Twitter that “We’ve seen no recent evidence of videos promoting the Momo Challenge on YouTube. Videos encouraging harmful and dangerous challenges are against our policies.”
NetSafe, the advisory board for online safety in New Zealand, also released a statement yesterday confirming that they have not received any reports of young people in New Zealand taking the challenge.
Should parents be worried about the Momo Challenge?
Whether the Momo Challenge is real or not and whether or not the sender of the challenge is an unknown ‘challenge’ instigator or is in fact a school friend, a scared child is a scared child, and parents have a responsibility to protect their children from harmful online content.
The lack of physical evidence of the challenge taking place suggests that the Momo challenge could be an internet hoax, fuelled by the public through copying and sharing the images across social media. Although, as we can’t know this for sure, we’re advising parents to be extra vigilant regarding online safety at this time.
Practical tips to keep your children safe from the Momo Challenge
It’s natural to get worried about stories you hear online but remember that not everything you read online is true. We commend you for reading this article, and implore you to read more from trusted organisations, such as NetSafe, in order to get your facts straight on the Momo pandemic.
Voyager Internet CEO, Seeby Woodhouse, shares his thoughts on why it’s more important than ever to promote online safety at home, “We provide home broadband to thousands of families across New Zealand and all of these home broadband plans include unlimited data. Unlimited data is great for streaming content across a number of devices, but it also means that it’s now common for kids to have their own phones and tablets, and it can be easy for parents not to know what their kids are up to online. We view it as our responsibility to promote the importance of online safety and support parents who want to ensure a safe, and fun, online experience for the whole family through sharing helpful resources and practical tools. Any Voyager customers who are concerned about Momo can contact our Kiwi helpdesk for a chat and for reassurance about how they can help keep their kids safe online.”
Here are some practical steps you can take to promote online safety in your family, and links to how to guides for setting up parental controls on your child’s devices:
- Encourage your children to be open and honest with you about what they see and do online. Let them know that they can talk to you about anything they see which causes them upset or stress.
- Reassure your child that Momo is not real, and that no harm can come to them.
- Report any sightings of Momo immediately to the owner of the website.
- Turn off ‘suggested auto-play’ on YouTube to stop any content which your child hasn’t directly searched automatically playing. This can be turned off under the ‘Settings’ tab.
- Consider setting up parental controls on your child’s phone or tablet to restrict access to certain apps and minimise the risk of unwanted content:
- Here are some other helpful articles for ensuring your whole family can have a safe online experience whilst using your home laptop or computer: