Momo: Threat or Urban Legend?
By Tracey Dowdy
If you’ve been at all active on social media over the past couple of weeks, especially on Facebook or mommy blogs, you’ve no doubt been exposed to the alleged “Momo Challenge,” purported to encourage children to harm themselves. Momo- a bird-like creature with huge eyes and an oversized grinning mouth that looks straight out of a Tim Burton movie – is allegedly accompanied by explicit suicide instructions spliced into YouTube clips of Peppa Pig or Fortnight.
Sherriff’s departments issued Facebook warnings about it, schools across the country have warned parents and students through emails, and none other than Kim Kardashian herself cautioned parents to be aware of what their children are watching online and asking YouTube and YouTube kids to step up and do better monitoring their content.
The problem is, the whole things appears to be a hoax. The image at the heart of the outrage is that of ‘Mother Bird,’ a sculpture created by Japanese artist Keisuke Aiso in 2016. When questioned about the creature, Aiso stated that the piece, made out of rubber and natural oils, had been destroyed last fall. “It doesn’t exist anymore, it was never meant to last. It was rotten and I threw it away. The children can be reassured Momo is dead – she doesn’t exist and the curse is gone.”
Aiso first became aware that the piece had been “hijacked” months ago, just weeks after he had thrown it out. “I know Momo appeared six months ago in South America, but it has come back this week so much, it’s been bigger and there has been more attention this time.”
The Momo Challenge is no more than the latest creepypasta-inspired internet urban legend to go viral. Unfortunately, much of the hysteria surrounds parent’s fear of technology and a willingness to assume “I read it on the internet so it must be true.” Just like fake news is spread when individuals fail to take the time to question the credibility of sources, these online urban legends – think Slender Man, The Blue Whale Challenge – could be debunked by five minutes on sites like Know Your Meme or Snopes.
New York Magazine recently ran a story, “How Are Kids Supposed to Learn to Be Smart Online If Adults Are Such Big Dummies?” It’s a fair question. If we want our children to be discerning, ask thoughtful questions, and not be duped by online predators, as parents, we need to be intentional about taking our own advice.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.