Momo 'hoax' raises concerns in School District 43

Letter sent to Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody parents urging them to monitor their kids' online content

The Momo Challenge is either a hoax or a real threat to kids. Either way the social media phenomenon is an important reminder to parents to vet the programs their kids see online.

“This is kind of like a campfire story, it’s a viral story such as when you take a story and push it,” said Jesse Miller, a social media expert who presents to schools on internet safety.

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According to commentators, it’s unclear how many videos are being circulated or to what degree that children are harming themselves.

But reports about the challenge has prompted organizations, such as School District 43, to issue warnings.

A screen shot from a purported Momo video on Twitter. - Momo

In a letter sent through SD43 schools last week, parents were told the Momo Challenge first started in 2016 on the mobile app Whatsapp and was used to threaten users, especially children.

It resurfaced recently in YouTube videos especially targeted to children, and Minecraft gameplay, urging children to harm themselves or family members.

“Parents/Caregivers should carefully monitor what their children watch on YouTube and only allow them to watch trusted channels,” states the letter, jointly written by Safer Schools, the Canadian Centre for Trauma Response and the B.C. Ministry of Education.

Miller said the creepy video was likely created by someone wishing to cause trouble online, similar to a Blue Whale suicide challenge that reportedly originated in Russia.

The word Momo is Japanese for bird, Miller said, and the creepy figure portrayed is based on a half human-half bird creature created by a Japanese artist, Miller said.

What’s happening is that internet “trolls” are splicing the image and the original video into new content, which children then watch online.

“The Momo Challenge maybe over hyped, but the core idea of keeping kids safe is still important,” Miller said.

He said parents should vet content before allowing children to watch it but not get too overwrought about the Momo phenomenon.

“There is not a single incident documented, up to Wednesday of last week, an actual incident of self harm or suicide associated with this challenge,” Miller said.

However, Miller admitted the upside of all the fear created by the social media commentary about Momo may be that more parents become vigilant about their children's online activity.

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