Is your child actually at risk of seeing the "Momo Challenge" on YouTube?

Kinderling News & Features

The "Momo Challenge" is the latest challenge to spread fear across the parenting world, but some say it's no more than a cruel made-up hoax. Pip Lincolne sheds some light on whether or not you really need to be worried. 

If you needed another reason to keep your kids off YouTube – and stick to safe websites and apps like ABC Kids – here it is.

What is the Momo Challenge?

Reports that the self-harm focused “Momo Challenge” is being spliced into Peppa Pig clips on both YouTube and YouTube Kids began last year and are currently reaching fever pitch.

While the truth of these is hard to ascertain, it’s a reminder that kids can very easily see things online that they shouldn’t – and we need to be super mindful of their safety.

If you’re just catching up, you should know that Momo is a Japanese character with horrifying bulging eyes, an impossibly scary wide mouth and a bird body. We won’t show a picture of Momo here because we wouldn’t want your kids to see it.

The Momo Challenge reportedly encourages its target to divulge their contact phone number and begin chatting with Momo. The character is then said to set them challenges which may involve self-harm or even suicide. 

“Unofficial copies of cartoons such as Peppa Pig have been uploaded to YouTube with footage of  Momo edited in. Children watching unofficial uploads may, therefore, be exposed to the distressing images,” the BBC reports, while also confusingly suggesting that the Momo hysteria is a hoax.

Widespread warnings AND hoax claims

There are lots of other reports which assert that the “Momo Challenge” is a viral hoax rather than a real threat to kids, but also plenty of upset parents and relatives who say it most definitely is not made-up.

“This is definitely real. My 9-year-old cousin has seen this Momo person in pop up in Minecraft videos. We didn’t even show him who this person was we just simply asked and he said, ‘Yea I know Momo she is crazy and she scares me,'” one Twitter user posted when people suggested the challenge was made up.

Others quickly chimed in explaining that it’s not a hoax and the kids in their life had been exposed to Momo too.

Confusing, right?

Some worried UK schools began sharing warnings about the challenge after being contacted by distressed parents who were worried about Momo’s effect on their children.

“One of the videos starts innocently, like the start of a Peppa Pig episode for example, but quickly turns into an altered version with violence and offensive language,” Haslingden Primary School explained to their community via Facebook.

“Another video clip is going by the name of ‘MoMo’ which shows a warped white mask which is promoting children to do dangerous tasks without telling their parents. Examples we have noticed in school include asking the children to turn the gas on or to find and take tablets.”

It’s not clear which videos the school had themselves seen.

YouTube denial

YouTube says the reports of the Momo Challenge appearing within content they publish are incorrect.

“On Wednesday, YouTube said that content relating to ‘Momo’ has not been found on YouTube Kids and that YouTube permits news stories and videos intended to raise awareness of and educate against the challenge,” The Independent reports.

A spokesman for YouTube said: “Contrary to press reports, we have not received any links to videos showing or promoting the Momo challenge on YouTube. Content of this kind would be in violation of our policies and removed immediately.”

Fake news?

Indeed apart from these anecdotes on social media, there is no real evidence that Momo has popped up in kids’ content. (Unless you have some? Let us know if you do.)

It actually seems that the very IDEA of this challenge is what’s doing the most harm. Kids who have seen the image of Momo in these viral stories about the challenge are finding it very haunting – and the widespread discussion surrounding the dangers of the Momo Challenge is scaring them too.

“My daughter came home upset from school because her friend had been talking to her about it and scared her,” one mum said on Twitter and that’s pretty understandable because it DOES sound scary.

So what should parents do to keep their kids safe – and who should they believe?

It’s hard to know who to believe here. Best to be vigilant and do what you usually do – avoid letting your child watch YouTube unsupervised and turn to trusted sources who curate content carefully – like the ABC.

This post originally appeared on Babyology.