Is The Momo Challenge Real Or A Hoax? How Families Can Navigate Media Threats

Feb 28, 2019, 7:39 PM | Updated: 7:40 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — You may have seen a creepy face of a scary woman floating around on social media this week.

This character is named Momo. She captured headlines last summer and has once again has resurfaced the internet.

Parents on social media have shared stories of their kids seeing Momo pop up in YouTube videos and other social media platforms like WhatsApp, encouraging them to take their own life with instructions on how to do so.

Others, including YouTube, said there is no evidence of such videos.

In a statement released to NBC, YouTube said:

“We want to clear something up regarding the Momo Challenge: We’ve seen no recent evidence of videos promoting the Momo Challenge on YouTube. Videos encouraging harmful and dangerous challenges are against our policies. If you see videos including harmful or dangerous challenges on YouTube, we encourage you to flag them to us immediately. These challenges are clearly against our Community Guidelines.”

Whether the Momo Challenge is real or not, one Utah expert reminds parents to set online safety rules for their family and to develop an open dialogue with their kids all the time.

The Coombs family has developed a good system.

Like any other 11-year-old, Anja Coombs enjoys spending time on YouTube.

“I like to watch cartoons and funny videos and stuff like that,” she said.

Unlike some preteens, however, she actually shares a close relationship with her mom.

“So I guess I’m just really close to her and can talk to her about anything,” she explained.

When Momo came up in conversation in the Coombs’ household, Anja’s mother, Nichole Coombs, said it wasn’t a big event because they already had a plan.

Anja Coombs knew the drill.

She said, “If something bad happens, like Momo hacks into a video, just turn it off and flip it over and go tell someone.”

“So it wasn’t scary, we didn’t have nightmares, we didn’t stew about it and bring everybody in for a conversation. It was just another piece of the puzzle,” Nichole Coombs described.

She credits this success to the open communication she and her daughter share.

She said she has made a habit of talking to her kids about safety over the years, and the family shares passwords to their social media accounts.

“I think it’s lots of little conversations as they’re little and as they grow up— that’s what really feeds safety,” Nichole Coombs said.

Intermountain Healthcare’s Tammer Attallah at Primary Children’s Hospital said it’s important for parents to maintain an open dialogue with their kids all the time—not just after trends like Momo.

“I think it’s an ongoing communication rather than just simply reacting to these sorts of things. I think just like any other issue, being proactive is incredibly important,” he said.

Attallah said banning media in your household might not be the best answer.

By removing media entirely from your home, Attallah said, parents could be missing out on a learning opportunity for their child, “rather than just simply sheltering and protecting.”

He said avoiding media in today’s world isn’t realistic.

“It’s certainly a platform that is really integrated in the fabric of how we communicate,” Attallah said.

Instead, Attallah encourages parents to set the right boundaries like designating “media free time” and putting the tablet or TV away at least an hour before bed.

“It’s about healthy consumption of social media and screen time,” Attallah said. “Do we actually limit social media at certain times? Do we talk about content that we learn about that’s not appropriate and do we talk about it as a family to make sure that we’re safe?”

He urges parents to use experiences like Momo as teaching opportunities and to foster conversations about their child’s emotional health.

If a child has seen Momo, he encourages parents to ask their child what they think about it and how it make them feel, in addition to reporting it to the online platform.

He said, “We don’t want to exaggerate an experience that they have, but we certainly don’t want to minimize it either.”

Attallah said open communication includes talking to your kids about all the challenges and frustrations they have in life including school, home, and online media.

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Is The Momo Challenge Real Or A Hoax? How Families Can Navigate Media Threats