As seen with the Slender Man phenomena, the internet has replaced word of mouth for the rapid spread and growing folklore of modern monsters, and rituals, concerning how to summon them. The proliferation of such content — there is a sub-reddit dedicated to “paranormal recipes” for interacting with the supernatural — leads some to obsession and the search for scarier, more immersive things to try. It also allows people with an instinct to inflict pain and suffering on others a larger platform to do so with some of the most vulnerable population.
The Blue Whale Challenge was started by a Russian man interested in the psychological manipulation of others to perform a list of 50 tasks that ended with suicide — and reported deaths of several teens playing the “Game.” Now the Momo Challenge is targeting the same demographic through WhatsApp and the use of a creepy Japanese statue made by artist Midori Hayashi. Hayashi is not the creator of the challenge.
While the original source of the Momo Challenge is unknown, several outlets report it began on Facebook before branching out onto WhatsApp. The popular communication app allows users to text or video chat with people around the world without worries of extra charges on their cell phone bills. As such, Momo has several phone numbers from around the world circulating as part of the “game.” Once the victim adds one of Momo’s numbers to their WhatsApp contacts, they begin to receive insults, threats, and upsetting, gruesome images. Some YouTube videos purporting to communicate with Momo show conversations where the entity states that they know the victim’s name, location, and even what they are doing as they chat.
(That video also had an interaction where “Momo” said the viewers had to subscribe to the channel, like the video, and share it with three friends, so it may not be the best source of what is actually happening during the Challenge.)
According to the father of a 12-year-old in Escobar, Argentina, his daughter committed suicide due to receiving threats and photos of a corpse from Momo. She also allegedly filmed herself completing Momo-ordered challenges before taking her own life. The person or persons on the other end of the three or more phone numbers use a combination of bullying and highly disturbing images as intimidation to keep their immature and frightened victims from blocking them on WhatsApp. But why?
It is thought that the Momo Challenge is effectively a way to install spyware on the phones of susceptible marks. This would explain why many people interacting with the numbers reported Momo using their name or those of family members, home address, or current activities to scare them. The best route to avoid the game’s spread is to speak with kids about the fake Momo and explain that it is just a scheme to steal private information. Any individuals who have already contacted Momo in WhatsApp can use the block feature to stop any further unwanted threats or violent images and their phones should probably be examined for spyware.
However, it should also be kept in mind that this Momo Challenge has taken on more of a mythological life around the internet than Slender Man. Only the death in Argentina has been connected to the strange phone number interactions and there is no concrete proof anywhere online to show Momo pushed the girl to take her own life. Right now, this is more of an “Oprah and the Rainbow Party” type of thing, where parents and law enforcement agencies are reporting the possibilities of the Momo Challenge and adding to its lore rather than showing evidence of it as a real threat to children.
At any rate, close attention should be paid to who or what kids are interacting with online or on their phones and for signs of depression or suicidal thoughts. If it takes an overblown story about a sinister entity sending pictures of dead people to children to prompt parental interaction, then so be it.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline