Urban Legends

Knock It Off, Lazy News Outlets. 'Momo' Isn't Telling Kids To Hurt Themselves.

When absurd ghost stories are passed off as actual journalism

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Momo
Momo video

"It's Sickening" blares a headline at CBS's Baltimore affiliate about an alleged threat to children who play games online, watch cartoon videos, or use social media.

The headline is accurate that something is sickening here, but it's the decision to have run this embarrassing, fact-challenged story in the first place. And sadly, CBS Baltimore is hardly the only one.

Here's the "scoop": A sinister game called "The Momo Challenge" exists online. It involves a creepy woman's face popping up when children are watching cartoons on YouTube or playing video games or just messaging each other. Momo orders these children, as part of this game, to do harmful things to themselves, up to and including suicide.

The most important thing to understand about "The Momo Challenge" is that it doesn't exist. It's bullshit. It's nonsense. And it should be obvious to even the most casual user of online technology. Here's a sentence from that CBS report that should hopefully make clear what a hoax all this is (bold text mine):

Momo uses a picture of a woman with bulging eyes and jet black hair and can target kids through Peppa Pig or Fortnite when parents aren't around.

So this viral intrusion that can infect not just multiple styles of communication but also completely different and unrelated types of software can also determine whether parents are around? Huge, if true!

Momo must be really skilled, because this scare story has bounced around from media outlet to media outlet, and yet not a single adult has actually seen Momo pop up and offer one of these dangerous challenges. This "report" by Kelsey Kushner chooses the weaselly "Police are warning" route, followed by quotes from adults who find it "sickening" that somebody would target kids this way, concluding with tips on how to protect your kids from the threat of Momo: Monitor your kids constantly! "You have to get in their phones, get in their apps," one parent says.

And yet there's not one piece of evidence that any of this happening. There's a brief clip of a video that shows the image of "Momo," which is actually a sculpture of a harpy by a Japanese special effects company. I was able to track this nonsense back to a story by U.K. tabloid Daily Star, which features a mom claiming "Momo" told her 5-year-old daughter to cut off her hair. This, apparently, is the most logical explanation to Mom as to why a 5-year-old girl would do something so silly as cut her own hair, something small children have been doing since scissors were invented (if not before).

The Daily Star story does have a video clip of this Momo face with a child's sing-song voice threatening that Momo is going to kill you. But it's just completely contextless. The clip doesn't indicate that this video popped up as some sort of insert into social media viewing or during a cartoon. In the clip, Momo doesn't even order the viewer to do anything.

Similarly, this mother in Wichita, Kansas, blames Momo for her young son's outbursts. Again, there's a brief clip of some Momo threats in some video, but it still does not connect to anything.

Yet there's not a single sentence even in any of these reports in which anybody questions whether the Momo Challenge is even real. The CBS Baltimore piece claims Momo has been "reportedly linked to suicides in other countries" without any explanation.

Say what you will about Snopes' ability to accurately fact-check politicians, but they remain a great clearinghouse for takedowns of viral "urban legend" scares. There's actually little to no evidence that the suicides referenced are actually linked to the Momo Challenge, Snopes explains. In one case in Argentina, police actually suspect it was a relationship with another person that led to a teen's suicide, not an online challenge.

There was a recent story revealing that some suicide tips had been nastily spliced into child videos on YouTube, and in that case, adults have actually seen the videos and reported them. It's also obvious that people made these videos and posted them online for kids to find. This is unconnected to the Momo Challenge.

The Momo Challenge coverage is a ghost story disguised as news. It's presented as though evil hackers are able to put it in front of children when parents aren't looking. That's not how any of this works, and it's just remarkably irresponsible for media outlets to sell a fearful story without an ounce of skepticism.

But I suppose we shouldn't be surprised. Just a couple of weeks ago, media outlets across the country "warned" parents about an alleged social media "challenge" telling children to run away from home and hide for 48 hours without telling anybody. This challenge does not exist. It was debunked by Snopes when reports first emerged in 2015. Again, this was all based on an incident in another country (France) that, on further inspection, had nothing to do with any sort of online "challenge."

So why are media outlets and cops warning parents about a trend that doesn't actually exist? This story from NBC News (the main media outlet—not some local affiliate) says police departments haven't actually had any cases, but want to warn folks because they themselves were contacted by the media. This is a great example of media people conjuring fake news.

If you type "48 Hour Challenge" into Google News, you'll get numerous pieces in this vein. There are plenty of "Momo Challenge" stories, too, but at least in this case, it looks like people are waking up to the obvious fakeness of it.

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78 responses to “Knock It Off, Lazy News Outlets. 'Momo' Isn't Telling Kids To Hurt Themselves.

  1. Look at mister high and mighty journalist here who doesn’t have a nightly broadcast to fill and eyeballs to attract. Look, it’s either this or parroting the Florida sex trafficking narrative for a few more days.

    Personally, I would prefer they had kept on bath salts face eaters or even [shudder] the stalker clown infestation of 2016.

    1. I’m a big fan of Slender Man, but maybe that never really graduated from meme to panic.

      Also, question for the audience – were the clowns creepier than whatever this Momo bird-human-mutant thing is?

      1. The clowns are real, so the clowns.

        1. You are their leader.

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    2. Wow, I forgot about the clown panic.

      1. Weren’t most of those just Jugallos hainging out in the woods drinking beer and Faygo?

    3. To be fair…

      Shackford’s entire evidence relies only on parents who have gone running to the media. He didn’t contact Google/YouTube for their statistics for some reason. Apparently threats are not real until someone runs crying to the media. It’s a weird position to take.

      My wife and I have caught 2 videos. One about spiderman hanging himself and another about some weird death cult pony (the stream led to many of these types of videos from the regular my little pony streams). We supervise our kids, so actually catch these. I would think most parents don’t. We also just flagged them, we didn’t run to our local media, so guess our examples aren’t real.

    4. Anything that takes the media’s attention away from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s babbling nonsense, even if only for a short time, is fine with me.

      1. Im waiting for some smartphones sex videos featuring her to hit the net. I bet there are several. My guess is she fucks like a pro.

  2. A sinister game called “The Momo Challenge” exists online.

    And the only way to win is not to play.

    1. Everytime I encounter a momo, all I hear is a sinister voice whispering “eat me!” and “order more!” and a little sherpa smiling at me from the kitchen.

      1. You’re really assuming a widespread knowledge of Nepali dumplings there.

    2. If Momo doesn’t exist, how come Cohen paid her $130,000 to stop popping up on Trump’s teleprompter with self-destructive Tweet demands?

      1. Check Mate!

      2. You, sir, win the internet for the day!

      3. Nice.

      4. Somebody get on the Muellerphone!

  3. I hate clowns, but that picture of Momo is about one of the creepiest pictures I have ever seen.

    1. I would die if it attacked me.

      1. Why wait?

        Ba-zing!

      2. I don’t know, huge smile, big eyes, cute little upturned nose, waifish body-type, long dark hair.
        Maybe would bang…

        1. She kinda looks like Shelley Duvall, only less scary.

          1. Right on the money.

    2. We all know you’d fuck it.

      1. Now, that is the *real* Momo Challenge!

        1. More like the Quagmire challenge.

          Giggity!

    3. She looks less like a Slovenian circus clown than Melania’s great-aunt Malavasia.

      1. Look for the side by side with AOC. It’s hideously similar.

        1. Threesome?

  4. I don’t think Shackford understands what is going on here.

    Kids watching youtube just end up clicking from video to video. YouTube plays a video, and then gives you a stream of “related videos” next to that video. As the current video ends, either the kids click on the stream, or the player just grabs the next video off the top of the roll.

    What is happening here, is people are uploading videos that start harmless for the first few minutes, but then mid stream insert some obnoxious content. It isn’t just momo, there are other things, like a person explaining how to slit your wrists.

    This is a big problem. I know people working at google who are pulling their hair out about this.

    I do agree that the answer is not to monitor your kids constantly. The answer is to not let your 5 – 10 year old on you tube. Ever. Unless you want to sit and watch with them. Letting your kid sit and watch un-curated, public content that is organized by algorithm is essentially like sending your kid to sit on the street corner next to a construction site and strip club. They very likely won’t come to harm, but they certainly are going to be exposed to stuff that you would rather they avoid.

    If you want to shut your kids up with some screen time (and God knows I have been there on some days), download some curated content from your app store or put them on Netflix.

    1. I just saw the paragraph where Shackford points out that this is unconnected from the issues with YouTube, so I apologize for deriding him.

      The Momo Challenge specifically is a stupid meme floating around, and I agree that it is largely harmless. It is a danger for any kids who are given unfettered access to social media. They can get messages from strangers that could be sexual predators or 4Chan griefers pulling pranks. I find this less problematic, because only idiots are giving their pre-teen unfettered social media accounts, unless they are mature enough to understand stranger danger.

      1. It’s an entirely strange article. Stop freaking out, we only have evidence of one news outlet showing a Momo clip!!!!! Not sure the point of this article at all. His reliance on media reports is also fucking hilarious. Do some research scott, go email youtube for some statistics on videos like this taken down.

      2. The answer is to not let your 5 – 10 year old on you tube. Ever.

        I find this less problematic, because only idiots are giving their pre-teen unfettered social media accounts, unless they are mature enough to understand stranger danger.

        I don’t know if you’re playing fast and loose with definitions, you don’t have kids, you coddle them or they’re dumb, or if overparenting is more of a cultural thing where you are but most kids around where I live, including mine, fully understand stranger danger by the age of 6-7 and most pre-teens have relatively unfettered mobile access to Youtube/Social Media.

        Might surprise you to learn that lots of 5 and 6 yr. olds (and older) tend to turn the device off or switch the stream over when their desired content switches to instructional suicide videos. They aren’t mindless viewers/consumers much more than their adult counterparts are. Might further surprise you that there’s likely not an underground rape child suicide culture and that, even if there were, you’d have to be exceedingly negligent outside of Youtube, to the point that the Youtube videos are largely immaterial, for it to become a dominating influence or even a one-off catastrophic event.

        1. They aren’t mindless viewers/consumers much more than their adult counterparts are.

          And if they are mindless viewers, then the content is pretty explicitly immaterial.

          The thing that blows my mind is that the very people who used to talk about cartoons rotting your brain and making kids do violent and dangerous stuff are now the ones who encourage toddlers to emulate Mickey and Dora.

          There were lots of cool kids who got to see The Terminator, The Godfather, and Taxi Driver when I was a kid. They didn’t emulate it because the act of passively observing it was what made it cool. And at least some of the time, the level of the mentality of the content (despite the abject violence) meant they could’ve been watching 90 min. of paint drying.

          The kids who did see the movies and did do violent things were either already on a path to it, as much coddled by their surroundings, or were separated from the viewing by 5, 10, even 20 yrs. and had other explicit motives for their misdeeds.

          The (near) murder of the Milwaukee girl by two of her peers because slenderman is notable because of it’s exceptional nature. Half a dozen kids killed each other in Chicago in that month (or maybe it and the two months either side) and we’re never going to be able to ban kids from viewing Chicago.

    2. My stepdaughter, who grew up as media crazy and libertine as they get, now refuses to let her 7-year-old son go on YouTube at all. “I know, I know” she said in response to my bemused raised eyebrows, “but you have absolutely no idea how nutso the videos for kids have gotten these days.” I asked her if I wanted to know, and she said “no, you don’t.”

  5. “And sadly, CBS Baltimore is hardly the only one.”

    These are the outlets which featured Cohen’s Hollywood award presentation yesterday and assured us it was ‘the end of Trump!’
    I simply do not watch TV news, but in SF we have one of the worst print equivalents in the Chron. Not only do they not have the decency to be embarrassed, but they are offended when told (truthfully) that they are largely handing out fake news.

  6. Can we find a way to get this mutant piece of shit photo and its accompanying bullshit story OFF my social media feeds?

    I place this kind of thing next to all the stories of sexual trafficking abductions that NEVER happened: the whole “don’t park next to this kind of van…this is what traffickers use to nab their victims,” and all the pearl clutching moms thanking them for advice and sharing to the next series of dupes.

    1. Just don’t participate in social media.

      1. I don’t do social media. My life is fairly serene.

  7. http://www.cnn.com/2019/02/25/…..index.html

    A mom found videos on YouTube Kids that gave children instructions for suicide

    “Spliced in the middle of one of the videos was footage of a man in sunglasses telling children how to slit their wrists.”

    Other source I saw said, sunglasses dude said go parallel to your arm for effective, but perpendicular if you want to NOT die (implied), but just want to “make a statement” (get attention).

    YouTube took it down when they heard, so I am not having a shit-fit… But that someone would post it in the first place, is disturbing enough!

  8. So this viral intrusion that can infect not just multiple styles of communication but also completely different and unrelated types of software can also determine whether parents are around? Huge, if true!

    You don’t really get how ghosts work do you, Shackleford?

    1. Maybe this will finally rid the world of moms.

  9. This is from a video game. Some horror game who’s name I’m blanking on. You can find it on Steam. It starts with your character participating in an urban legend game, which becomes real. You then have to do certain tasks specified through phone messages or you get killed.

    Apparently it’s bled over into reality, ignoring the fact that the murdering ghost is not actually a real thing in life.

    1. ARGs really need to be more of a thing than just prelaunch promotional material.

    2. Is this like that little girl convincing you to put on a Pintsized Slasher mask and murder everyone in Tranquility Lane? Damn that Dr. Braun was creepy as fuck!

    3. Momo is an actual exhibit from an art show… not a video game.

  10. Momo was Sam Giancana’s nickname. He didn’t survive the Momo challenge.

  11. Why is this being repeated? For the same reason that the news warns parents about spiked candy and razor blades in apples right before holloween: fear sells. The fact that there isn’t a single case of either danger in our historical record does not deter them, and why should it? “Your kids Halloween candy is safe this year, just as it has been every year” won’t exactly get people to tune in

    1. There actually has been a case of a child poisoned by haloween candy. A family member did it (I’m tempted to say stepfather, but can’t remember for sure).

      That’s IT.

      1. Yep, garbage-person *biological* father killed his own kid for the insurance money.

        Happily the justice system worked for once and he wound up being executed. (Or maybe it woulda been better for him to die in his 90s in prison — I hear child killers are especially disliked in the joint.)

      2. There actually has been a case of a child poisoned by haloween candy. A family member did it (I’m tempted to say stepfather, but can’t remember for sure).

        You aren’t talking about the case where child came into the ER and the family blamed it on Halloween candy but, when police searched their home, discovered that the kid had evidently gotten into his Dad’s meth stash, right?

        1. I think the real Halloween candy case was in the 1970s, and the guy was targeting his own kids. Charming fellow, but it was in Texas, so they executed him.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_Clark_O‘Bryan

  12. This story from NBC News (the main media outlet?not some local affiliate) says police departments haven’t actually had any cases, but want to warn folks because they themselves were contacted by the media.

    Let me get this straight: NBC News says police departments *want* to warn folks? *Not* police departments are warning people? How many degrees of indirect bullshit *is* this story?

    1. So, the media is reporting that police are concerned about this because people from the media have been asking them about it. OK.

  13. More fake news for the guppies to gorge themselves silly.

  14. The only time you should mention Snopes in an article is to make fun of them.

  15. This is nothing more than creepypasta for gullible parents.

  16. Come on Shackelford, this was the most heart warming news story in Baltimore. God, I guess its back to the multitude of actual murders to report on.

  17. Can someone get the “Vote Libertarian Challenge” going already?

  18. Momo is reputedly engaging in unprotected sex with Pepe the Frog. In public bathrooms. On school nights.

  19. “So why are media outlets and cops warning parents about a trend that doesn’t actually exist? ”

    No mystery. There’s anxiety about the lack of control over our computers. Pop up ads appear unbidden with messages tailored to exploit weaknesses in children. I promise the trend to intrusive interruptions definitely exists. I use the Linux OS and don’t have any problems with this sort of thing. I also use the i3 tiling window manager, by the way.

  20. I’m glad nobody’s exploiting this nice horror character to abuse kids online. That would have been wrong.

    In contrast, grown-ups would never freak out over this film.

  21. If they keep pushing this story hard enough, it’s bound to come true.

  22. “When absurd ghost stories are passed off as actual journalism”

    +1 Russiagate

  23. The Momo Challenge originally fell upon the Maya pedicurist tasked with sharpening her talons for the Running of the Pedophiles that concludes Easter Week in Momostenango

    1. Will Jeffy and PB be in attendance?

  24. Reminds me of the Coco the Clown skit in Kentucky Fried Movie.

  25. Here’s the game if anyone cares. This is literally people just pushing a concept for a video game in real life;

    Momo game. Bunch of bullshit

    Some shitty jumpscare game from 2018.

  26. I’m just upset that they have assumed Momo’s gender.

  27. If it bleeds/frightens/enrages/titillates, it leads. If it reduces ignorance somewhat, it’s paywalled.

  28. Your online report that the momo challenge is “fake news” is very irresponsible of you! We personally know of an 11 year old boy that hung himself in his room with a very sophisticated knot and was being terrorized for weeks before that with this momo, online. I am personally dealing with my 10 year old daughter’s very real trauma and depression over momo and what has happened in our community and I am flabbergasted at your lack or knowledge, disrespect to the people that have actually gone thru this and most of all… your ignorance! To think that something like this could never be true! You are essentially spreading hate by trying to discredit what is really happening to people and are helping, already scared, skeptic and even equally ignorant parents to not pay attention to this very real problem!

    I hope you consider educating yourself, really doing some research and correct the stupid article with the real facts! maybe with stats of the kids that have already been hurt due to this!

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