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Warning: Ignore the Momo Hoax

A creepy face. Warnings of kids being urged to hurt or kill themselves. It’s enough to give parents nightmares. But it turns out that’s all the “Momo challenge” is: an internet hoax to scare parents. But it’s a hoax that’s got so out of hand that police around the UK are issuing warnings. In some versions of the story, it’s an online game or a computer virus. In others, it’s an image that somehow pops up in children’s YouTube videos. Or maybe it’s a WhatsApp message.

What is it actually? Fake news.

Momo is a creepy doll-face image from a Japanese designer who isn’t responsible for all the nonsense (but is probably enjoying the publicity). Rumours of a Momo challenge have popped up from time to time, in South America, India, and now in the US and UK. YouTube has reported it hasn’t seen any Momo dares spliced into children’s content, and it would quickly remove any that showed up.

There is a real danger in Momo. First, it distracts from the real threats to kids on the Internet. There’s no lack of genuine creeps. Second, it provides an opportunity for pranksters. People are using #momochallenge tags as clickbait. Most of them are harmless but annoying. Third, it’s crying wolf. If some real danger pops up, people will think it’s just another hoax.

Advice to parents, teachers, etc.

The best thing to learn from this is: don’t believe every story you see on the Internet. That’s a good lesson for kids, too. Momo might even be a teaching opportunity. But please don’t go spreading the rumour. Double-check if a story is confirmed before sharing it with others.

Let children know that there are really bad people out on the Internet and teach them to be careful. Encourage them to talk about anything that scares them. But these bad people use all kinds of tricks. Usually they try to sound normal, not creepy. And teach your kids not to believe everything they see on Facebook and Twitter.

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