GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s an ugly face scaring kids and parents all over the country. But is the danger behind the “Momo Challenge” real or viral legend? The answer is both.
It began with trolls hacking their way into YouTube kids videos, telling them to harm themselves. Then Momo came along. The image of a woman with bulging eyeballs and stringy hair that began popping up randomly on videos and other social media is actually a Japanese sculpture.
But mix her frightening image with hackers’ messages and anecdotal stories of teen suicides in other countries, and you have what some call a digital version of a campfire horror story. Social media lit up with bogus stories of young people committing suicide prompted by Momo.
“It’s gone viral. It isn’t causing hordes of kids to commit suicide. There’s that sort of irrational fear,” said Chris McKenna, founder of Protecting Young Eyes.
His organization helps guide parents through digital worries, like dispelling the suicide rumors tied to Momo.
Real or not, Momo has a lot of parents and their kids scared, especially of the idea of the image popping up on a screen a young child is watching.
“Our reaction is that we want to make sure our kids are safe,” said Mike Ramm, assistant superintendent of instruction for Rockford Public Schools.
Rockford, Grandville and Caledonia are among the school districts that sent letters to parents about the challenge. They’re providing parents with tips on how to talks to their kids about Momo and other online issues.
“We know that fear and the feeling of having to be safe is a real thing, and so we want to make sure all of our students feel that way at school and support them there, and also support conversations at home,” Ramm said.
“If nothing else, I think this, although it been blown out of proportion, is forcing parents who maybe have just been a little more passive with technology to be involved, to talk to their kids about different things,” McKenna said.