Fact, Fiction And Why You Should Stop Sharing The Momo Challenge Story Now

Charities and experts say it's fake news

Momo challenge

by Sofia Tindall |
Updated on

Does fake news spread even faster than real news these days? If new claims from charities which call into question the existence of the Momo challenge - a reported 'suicide challenge' which has had parents, schools and news outlets alike frantically sharing and re-sharing to create a tidal wave of content are true: then yes.

If you're unfamiliar with the Momo story the basic's of it are this: recently news articles based on accounts from parents surfaced suggesting that the image of 'Momo' (actually originally a piece of sculpture) was appearing in children's youtube videos like Peppa Pig and games like Minecraft in short clips instructing children to harm themselves and issuing macabre warnings. Other reports warned that Momo was being added as a Whatsapp contact and targeting children with 'challenges' through the messaging app. But, the BBC reported earlier this week that charities and platforms have spoken out to say that they haven't received any reports linked to the Momo challenge.

Even Kim Kardashian weighed in on what is now being called out as viral misinformation (she took to Instagram stories to post screen shots of conversations about the challenge, tagging Youtube and writing 'Please Help!') the story has all the hallmarks of a social media takeover campaign. But when it comes to something as serious as this - a suicide challenge - regardless of whether a Kardashian is posting about it, don't we all have a responsibility to check the facts before sharing it ourselves?

Since it was reported earlier this week that disturbing material known as 'the Momo challenge' was targeting children by hacking into Youtube Peppa Pig videos and Minecraft and instructing them to harm themselves, charities including the Samaritans and the NSPCC have been compelled to address the concerns which have seen schools and the police warning parents to monitor their children's online activity. According to the charities, they haven't received reports of any incidents linked to the challenge. Yes - they're basically calling it fake news.

What the charities have said is now the problem, however, is that young people could be triggered by the fact that the story has now spread to national news sites and dominated our social media feeds. So in turning the story viral: we may have actually legitimized the threat that it presents to young people. Youtube have also tweeted stating that they have seen nothing to suggest that the Momo challenge even existed until now:

When it comes to Momo: could the boundaries between fake news, social media posting and sharing and real news have blurred to the extent that it's become...well...a problem?

Because, if there has actually been no clear-cut evidence that the Momo Challenge is real, then now arguably the perfect breeding ground has been created for it to be turned from a fiction to a reality?

Jamie Bartlett, author of The People Vs. Tech believes there's reason to worry about the way the Momo challenge has been spreading in a tangled web of possibly false news. Is it our sharing-obsession with hoaxes that is at least partly to blame? 'I feel like it’s a good reflection of how social media publicity works.' he says 'The thing about Hoaxes is that usually by virtue of them being hoaxes they’re quite extreme stories designed to do well on social media.'

And how did the Momo story get so out of hand? ''The underlying logic of these platforms is to build to reward content that is divisive and extreme and dangerous and outrageous and can get a response from people. So anything that does that you can usually be sure will do pretty well.' Jamie explains. 'It can be quite difficult to work out what’s true or not. When something is shared enough and talked about enough, mainstream media feels the need to report on it and it then becomes very difficult for an ordinary person to untangle the origins of the story.'

While those sharing and talking about Momo the challenge are doing so with good intentions: it's a conundrum. While fake news might seem fairly harmless it can quickly escalate. Mom is a stark reminder that we should all think more carefully before we share something in our feed.

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