The distorted image of a creepy doll with bulging eyes is not telling children to harm themselves.
The real harm of the so-called Momo Challenge is the fear-mongering from what appears to be nothing more than a viral scare.
This is according to experts‚ who have called alerts‚ articles and rumours claiming that the creepy game – which targets young children on social media – “fake news” and a hoax.
Parents’ concerns peaked when North Ireland police issued a public warning on the Momo Challenge.
According to alerts‚ the doll encourages children to add a contact on messaging service WhatsApp‚ then hounds them with violent images and dares.
It encourages self-harm and ultimately tells them to commit suicide.
Media Monitoring Africa director William Bird told TimesLIVE that while the organisation had not examined the Momo Challenge more than having read the comments and stories in the media‚ the claims seemed to be a classic case of misinformation.
“This is a case where fears of bad things on the internet are used to spread false information. What makes this more concerning is that it is fear-mongering and is scaring children. Those who are perpetuating it are also then deliberately seeking to scare our children. That is a tactic of a bully and thug.”
Bird said bad things could happen on the internet with “bad‚ evil people out there who seek to cause harm”. However‚ spreading stories like the Momo Challenge hoax created unreasonable fear and panic.
“It prevents us and young people from using the internet in more useful and even simply enjoyable ways. The short answer is – we need extensive critical and digital literacy programmes to be rolled out so that people learn to think before sharing; to check before sending to friends and to help prevent fear spreading.”
He said‚ “It’s why we have been working with children for the past 15 years to give them critical media literacy skills and why‚ for the past five‚ we have been building digital literacy. See www.hashplay.co.za‚” Bird said.
The Guardian reported that British charities and experts had called the Momo Challenge a malicious hoax.
It reported that the UK Safer Internet Centre called the claims “fake news” while YouTube said it had seen no evidence of videos showing or promoting the Momo Challenge on its platform.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children told The Guardian there was no confirmed evidence that the phenomenon was actually posing a threat to British children and said they had received more phone calls about it from journalists than from concerned parents.
Fact-checking website Snopes said a good deal of scepticism “remains that the existence of the Momo Challenge may be far more hype or hoax than reality”.
It said the hype began last year with reports that a 12-year-old girl in Argentina hanged herself after being prompted by the Momo Challenge.
Authorities in Argentina did not confirm that the girl’s suicide was encouraged by her participation in a viral “game” and are now looking for an 18-year-old suspect‚ who the girl had been in contact with on social media before her suicide.
Snopes author David Mikkelson said other reports of Momo Challenge deaths around the world were not confirmed.
“Perhaps the best general advice is for parents to address such issues preemptively‚ not necessarily dwelling on any specific rumours but advising their children to be responsible and let them know if they encounter anything in the digital realm that appears frightening or threatening‚” he said.
By: Nivashni Nair