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Fear of Momo & Co. – Real Problem or Media Hype?

3 minutes reading time
6-17 years
Social Media
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Whether chain letters or YouTube videos: Momo may have also scared your child. For weeks, people read reports and articles about the creepy figure with wide eyes and a scary grin. Thus, parents and teachers were also panicked and a real Momo hype arose. Media coverage has contributed to this.

Who or what is Momo?

Momo first appeared on WhatsApp in 2018 as a chain letter. In it, readers were invited to take part in various challenges and allegedly incited to self-harm. A photo of the creepy figure, which is actually a sculpture by a Japanese artist, caused great fear, especially among younger children. The chain letter was followed in 2019 by alleged WhatsApp accounts of Momo, which directly contacted children and young people. YouTuber posted videos online in which you apparently chatted with Momo and engaged in risky tasks.

How did the media cover it?

It probably started with a local newspaper in England, which took a Facebook post by a concerned mother as an opportunity to report on Momo. Other media picked up on the Momo phenomenon. This was followed by reports about YouTube videos and children’s series in which Momo suddenly appears and about a schoolgirl’s alleged suicide attempt for which the creepy figure was responsible. Parents, teachers and children were warned about Momo.

Why is the reporting problematic?

Many reports subsequently turned out to be untrue or at least greatly exaggerated. Information was hardly ever checked for accuracy. False reports ultimately triggered the Momo scandal.

Although no one was ever written to directly by Momo, the character suddenly posed a real threat. Messages were forwarded, because one also wanted to warn friendly parents or neighbors. Adults fell for what they actually want to protect their children from: The principle of chain letters – the uncritical forwarding of messages that have not been checked for truth.

The great media attention also encourages imitators: New chain letters are sent out into the world, WhatsApp accounts with the name Momo are created. Thus, the issue gets an enormous amount of attention and panic ensues. It is a vicious circle: Again and again new events and reports that do not break off further promote the Momo hype.

Other phenomena and challenges are also extremely inflated by media attention. You may have heard of the so-called Blue Whale Challenge – a game that allegedly drives children and teens to suicide. The existence of this game has never been proven. Through constant media reports, the Challenge finally became known in Germany as well.

How can you as a parent deal with such a situation?

Do not respond to your child’s fear with panic, but explain that such stories are often made up and that chain letters have the sole function of frightening and pressuring recipients. Make it clear that many reports are falsehoods and there is no reason to be afraid. Because why should you be afraid of something that doesn’t exist?

Explain to your child what false reports are and how to recognize them. You can read more about this in our article on Fake News.

Always be a point of contact for your child, even when it comes to their online experiences! If you notice that, for example, Momo, similar scary characters or problematic challenges appear in YouTube videos, report this content – directly to YouTube or to jugendschutz.net.

Whether you learn of such incidents through an article, a Facebook group, other parents, or your child: Do not simply forward the information! Check what facts there are about the phenomenon and whether the information seems exaggerated or realistic. Also talk to other parents about whether the message can be true.

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