MHF statement on the Momo Challenge

4 Mar, 2019

The MHF has watched with growing concern at reporting and social media sharing about the  “Momo Challenge” and strongly discourages further sharing or publicising of the challenge.

The Momo Challenge started as a hoax and there is no evidence the initial hoax caused any harm to young people.

However, increased media coverage and sharing on social media created widespread panic and alarm, which may have inspired some dangerous individuals to imitate the challenge and encourage young people to self-harm.

It is always difficult to balance a need for parents and caregivers to be aware of any risks to their children with real concerns about alerting more people to the existence and availability of a challenge that can do harm.

We know most people have been sharing news of the challenge to try and warn other parents and adults. However, much of the information shared isn’t credible and images have caused significant distress to young people who viewed them.

We have had no reports of self-harm resulting from young people taking part in the challenge, although young people are increasingly experiencing significant distress if they have seen the challenge show up online.

We are aware copycats may have created material that may have appeared on YouTube and elsewhere and alarmed parents and young people alike.

Young people are aware of and talking about this challenge. Some may be distressed by it, others may be intrigued and seeking out ways to try it. Others still may try to copy the challenge and try to cause harm to others.

Young people use social media differently to adults and will almost inevitably encounter material related to mental health, self-harm and suicide. As adults it’s our job to ensure they are supported to talk about things that concern them and access any help they need.

Social media platforms need to step up and take responsibility for the content they host but this will take some time, and in the meantime parents and caregivers must take the lead in keeping young people safe online.

It’s up to us to bridge the gaps that exist between adults and rangatahi and ensure we’re not making problems worse. Social media can be a huge positive for many young people – banning it isn’t the answer. We need to ensure young people feel they can safely talk to the adults in their lives about distressing things they have seen or heard without fear of punishment or losing access to social media.

While there is a lot of misinformation and speculation around the Momo Challenge, what we do know is sharing details and imagery of the challenge is causing harm and distress to young people. Because of this, we strongly discourage further media reporting or social media sharing about the challenge.

Momo Challenge, dos and don’ts:

DO:

  • Read Connecting through Kōrero – a guide to having safe, open, honest and compassionate kōrero about suicide with taiohi/young people before approaching your young people
  • Find a private, quiet opportunity to talk
  • If you know your young people are aware of the game, ask them directly if they or anyone they know is taking part
  • If you’re not sure if your young people are aware of the challenge and don’t want them to find about it, ask them if they have seen anything online lately that has worried or upset them
  • Keep an eye on your young people for signs they have become depressed or withdrawn, have significant mood changes, stop participating in things they used to enjoy or start talking negatively about themselves
  • Keep an eye out for signs your young person might be self-harming – these signs can include wearing long-sleeved shirts or long pants when the weather is warm, having unexplained injuries, scars, bruises or marks and washing their own clothes separately
  • Be patient – let them know you’re there to talk whenever they’re ready.

DON’T:

  • Share anything that includes an image of the challenge as this creates further panic and has led to some young children becoming very distressed
  • Re-post things from Facebook/Twitter/Instagram accounts that are not verified and not from credible sources
  • Share content that creates alarm or panic without supporting adults or young people to respond well or giving information/advice about how to get help.

Helplines

Need to talk?

Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.

Lifeline

0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE).

Youthline

0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat.

Samaritans

0800 726 666.

Note for Māori: You can also contact or visit your local Māori or iwi social and health organisation for support.

Useful resources:

Connecting through KōreroMental Health Foundation of New Zealand: a guide to having safe, open, honest and compassionate kōrero about suicide with taiohi/young people.

Information for parents and caregivers, Office of Film and Literature Classification: information and support for parents to talk to their young people about the media they consume – including things they see online.

Social Media and Suicide: A Tipsheet for Parents and Providers, American Association of Suicide Prevention: an easy-to-use tipsheet for parents, health providers and caregivers. It is the goal of AAS and our member experts to provide parents and providers the help they need to make the world safer for youth at risk for suicide.

#chatsafe: A young person's guide for communicating safely online about suicide, Orygen: These guidelines have been developed in partnership with young people to provide support to those who might be responding to suicide-related content posted by others or for those who might want to share their own feelings and experiences with suicidal thoughts, feelings or behaviours. The #chatsafe guidelines may also provide practical assistance to parents, educators and those who provide support to young people engaging in online activities.

Netsafe: Momo Challenge advisory, Netsafe. 

Netsafe’s advice for parents, Netsafe: a series of resources for parents to support them to keep their young people safe online.

Self-harm, Common Ground: Advice for friends, whānau and family of young people who may be at risk of self-harming

Further reading:

*Please note all of these articles use the image that has caused distress. Please do not click on these articles if you feel viewing this image may upset or distress you:

Opinion: Momo Challenge is likely a hoax that plays on parents’ guilt, New Zealand Herald

Viral Momo Challenge a malicious hoax, The Guardian

How ‘Momo’, a global social media hoax about a paranormal threat to kids morphed into a US viral phenomenon, NBC News

How Much of a Threat Is the Purported ‘Momo Challenge’ Suicide Game? Snopes

A note about the Momo Challenge:

It may be useful to know what copycat pranksters may be imitating. Primarily targeted at children and adolescents, the Challenge is said to involve users receiving instructions to chat with a stranger via an unknown number on WhatsApp. Once the interaction commences they are challenged to complete a series of extreme tasks in the hope of meeting “Momo”, a fictional character with bulging eyes and a wide mouth. The artwork, called Mother Bird by Link Factory, was thought to be inspired by the work of a Japanese artist Midori Hayashi, however according to officials neither the Link Factory nor Midori Hayashi are affiliated with the challenge. If the player refuses to follow orders, “Momo” replies with a series of violent images and threats. Some have claimed their interactions with “Momo” included being sent violent images during the night, threatening to appear while they are sleeping and curse them.