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Momo suicide challenge: what is it and why is it dangerous?

Wednesday 27/February/2019 - 02:13 PM
Momo Challenge
Momo Challenge
An online “game” that encourages young people to harm themselves and in some cases even take their own lives has been reported in the UK for the first time، the week reported.

Momo، described as a WhatsApp “suicide challenge”، features an avatar of a woman with dark hair، pale skin and oversized eyes، who sends young people images and instructions on how to harm themselves and others.

A concerned mother from Bolton wrote on a local Facebook group that her son had been influenced by the game. Her seven-year-old boy “told his school friends that doll-like creatures would kill them in their sleep”، reports the Daily Mail.

She said: “When I collected him from school the teacher asked to talk to me. She said he had made three kids cry by telling them that Momo was going to go into their room at night and kill them.

“When we got home I spoke to him about this and he told me some kids at school had told him to look at the Momo challenge، which he did.”

The unnamed mother urged other parents to speak to their children before they found the game online.

It comes after a girl aged 12 and a boy of 16 killed themselves in northeastern Colombia in September after playing Momo، which has gone viral around the world.

Local media reported that the teenage boy knew the girl and passed the game to her before killing himself. She was found hanged two days later.

Colombian government secretary Janier Landono said: “Apparently، they practised this game through WhatsApp and it invited the young people to hurt themselves. The game has different challenges and the suicide is at the end.”

What is the Momo challenge?
“Users who engage with Momo on WhatsApp are sent disturbing and graphic photographs and in some cases are ‘doxed’ into self-harm and suicide،” reports 9News Australia.

Doxing “is when someone hacks your private information and then threatens to share it online or in a public forum، akin to blackmail”، the news site adds.

The game is reminiscent of the Blue Whale phenomenon، which was linked to at least 130 teenage deaths in Russia in 2017.

Fox News claims Momo is “also linked to the theft of personal data، harassment، extortion، anxiety، depression and insomnia”.

Where did it originate?
The game started in Mexico، with players “challenged” to communicate on WhatsApp with an unknown person known as Momo، according to the Computer Crime Investigation Unit of the State of Tabasco، Mexico.

The disturbing avatar was initially believed to show a work by Japanese artist Midori Hayashi، but is actually of a sculpture created by Japanese special effects company Link Factory and displayed at a Tokyo gallery.

Neither the company nor Hayashi had anything to do with the Momo challenge، which began being shared online in August 2016، says The Independent.

According to Fox News، the Momo icon has begun appearing as an avatar or so-called mod in the popular video game Grand Theft Auto 5، while Momo content has also been added to the popular children's game Minecraft، owned by Microsoft.

Speaking to the BBC News Portuguese language site، Rodrigo Nejm of Brazil’s NGO Safernet said it was unclear how widespread the game has become، but warned that it was probably a form of “bait” used by criminals to steal data and extort people on the internet.

Where is the game being played?
As well as the two deaths in Colombia last autumn، “the death of a teenager in India was also linked to the Momo challenge”، says The Sun.

The 18-year-old’s body “was found in a livestock shed which had the words ‘Illuminati’ and ‘Devil's one eye’ scrawled on the wall”، according to the newspaper.

The game has also reportedly been shared in Argentina، France، Germany and India، and prompted several police forces to issue warnings to children and their parents about the challenges.

The Spanish national police is among a number of forces urging gamers to avoid the new craze. Police in Spain tweeted: “Do not go into ‘Momo’! If you record the number on your calendar، you will see a strange woman’ s face، it’s the latest WhatsApp viral to come in vogue among teenagers.”

Police in Montana are the latest to issue a warning about Momo، after a 12-year-old boy told his grandparents about a message on WhatsApp that threatened his friends، using their names.

Sergeant Robert Lester of Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office said “the child was told his friends would be killed if he didn’t do the tasks”. He warned parents they should notify law enforcement if Momo appears on their child’s phone or social media apps.

What is being done to stop it?
The deaths “have also led to criticism of tech giants and their failure to stamp out the Momo game، which has spread over sites including Twitter، Snapchat and YouTube”، says The Daily Telegraph.

The newspaper found dozens of videos promoting the challenges on YouTube and also included phone numbers for strangers. The investigation resulted in YouTube taking down one of the videos.

The Sun says experts have warned that the viral nature of Momo means it can quickly spread panic online، as twisted internet users seize upon the craze to spread it further.

Speaking to the paper، Dr Shahla Ghobadi، of the University of Manchester، said: “The nature of these things is that a percentage of the population will become compulsive، and not casual، users of online games.”

“Can we have more education and more positive challenges to occupy young people? Government policymakers، scientists and researchers need to think how we can use this innovation positively.”

India Today reports that the country’s Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has taken matters into its own hands، issuing advice to school principals to take strict measures to prevent students from indulging in these self-harming games.

The CBSE has also advised parents and teachers to monitor children's online and social media activity، look out for unusually secretive behaviour and install good parenting software.

On Sunday، local police in Ireland issued a warning to parents to supervise their children’s online activity. A spokesman for Garda Siochana Laois Offaly described it as a “form of cyberbullying” that “appears to target children or vulnerable people”.

He said: “Please، please، please always supervise your children or those that are vulnerable while online. As parents، it's all too easy sometimes to hand over a device to a child for that few minutes peace but there can be devastating consequences if they are left unsupervised.”

Cybersecurity expert Urban Schrott told The Sun that spying on children was unlikely to solve the problem. Instead، he suggested “more parental involvement، more knowing about these issues and explaining them، just like in real life when parents have to explain to kids the dangers of drugs or drinking or other dangerous activities”.

What is the Blue Whale phenomenon?
A forerunner of the Momo challenge، the Blue Whale Game is believed to have been started in Russia in 2016 by then 21-year-old ex-student Philipp Budeikin. In July a Siberian court sentenced him to three years in jail after he admitted inciting at least 16 teenage girls to commit suicide.

The phenomenon has been linked to 130 suicides in Russia “and there have been reports of young teens playing the game as far afield as Italy to Iran and Bulgaria to Bangladesh”، says the Daily Mirror.

Blue Whale players have to follow a series of 50 instructions from an anonymous “administrator”. These can range from “watching a horror film or playing music loudly to increasingly violent tasks such as taking pills، self-harm and then a final command to commit suicide”، says the Mirror.

Emine Karadag، a 13-year-old from Turkey، is the latest teenager to take her own life after playing the game. She killed herself with her father’s rifle in January. Her body was found surrounded by drawings of whales and a list of 25 “things to do before I die” linked to the so-called game.

Momo has also been compared to the “Doki Doki Literature Club” game، which officials in Manchester described as a “risk to children”. Police and a coroner urged parents to watch out for the game after a 15-year-old boy killed himself after playing it. There was no evidence to suggest it was a direct cause but it prompted the coroner to issue a warning to local authorities.

Edited by: Yara Sameh

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