Fake News, Fear-Mongering and Fact Finding

Over the past week here in South Africa, social media has been hyped up and crazy about the ‘Momo Challenge’. If you haven’t heard about it, you are either not on social media or you been sleeping the sleep of Rip van Winkle. It has been everywhere and social media has run with it as only social media can.

So who or what is Momo? The real “Momo” is a bird-like statue inspired by the Japanese folk figure the ubume, or bird woman and sculpted by the Japanese sculptor Keisuke Aiso which was an exhibit at the 2016 Tokyo Art Show. It has since been disposed of as the rubber sculpture naturally degraded and disintegrated.

Here is the thing though – the Momo Challenge is not a real thing. Momo does not exist and even though she does look, in my opinion, creepy and scary, the Momo Challenge is yet another internet-based urban legend (such as the Blue Whale Challenge) set to feed off the fears of less tech-savvy parents. The fear Momo evoked was, however, very real. Parents were up in arms, warning messages were sent out over social media, the image of “Momo” was spread far and wide and each time a little more was added to the story. A friend of a friend of a friend passed on messages without actually having seen the images or message personally, and so “Momo” grew a life of its own. Fear levels were extremely high. Children were upset. Panic was setting in. Miscreants then jumped on the bandwagon and spliced images of “Momo” into child-friendly videos on YouTube. (These videos have apparently been confirmed by various sources). YouTube released a statement refuting this, saying that they can find no evidence of the Momo Challenge on YouTube. Who exactly originated this “challenge”, we will never know. It first saw light in August 2018 and has done its rounds around the globe until finding its way to South Africa in the past week. Reports of deaths associated with this challenge have not been confirmed anywhere in the world.

There are lessons for us here, the teachers, parents and caregivers. We need to arm ourselves with knowledge. We need to be aware that there are malicious folk out there in the world who will take advantage of media consumers who take much of what they read at face value and are not aware of fake news or misleading information. We need to make it our business to find the facts and learn to take everything we read on the internet with a proverbial pinch of salt. We must not feed into our children’s fears by planting seeds of uncertainty before we have done our research and homework. The world is an evil enough place, we do not need to make it more so for our children. We need to keep the lines of communication open with our children. Talk to them and inform them (only as much as necessary) and then we need to give them skills to cope in situations where they feel afraid or uneasy on the internet. Block and report. Parents need to know how to protect their children online by using correct settings and setting filters. They should also know what their children are doing online – check in regularly. Our children should be taught to report incidents to a trusted adult and then open conversations about these incidents are necessary to ease fears and build trust. Parents need to be involved.

Through much reading about the Momo Challenge this past week, I have come across some very valuable articles and blog posts, and a podcast. I highly recommend parents and other educators to read these:

And this excellent read from a mother:

I also came across an excellent set of platform guides on a website called National Online Safety. They are certainly worth a look, as they are filled with information, tips, best practice ideas and more for many of the platforms our children find themselves on today – and yes, there is one for Momo too.


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