Momo challenge debunked as hoax

Negative influence: The character at the centre of it, called Momo, is an eerie-looking doll with bulging eyes and long, scraggy hair. — dpa

PETALING JAYA: If you, like many parents around the world, have been terrified by the prospect of your children being exposed to the Momo challenge, you can heave a sigh of relief. It has been debunked as a hoax.

The Momo challenge allegedly dares children to do dangerous acts, including harming themselves and others.

The character at the centre of it, called Momo, is an eerie-looking doll with bulging eyes and long, scraggy hair.

If children fail to perform the tasks, Momo allegedly threatens them. If they are successful, Momo reportedly leads them to do even riskier stunts.

News about the Momo challenge first emerged in July last year, and it was reported that there was a WhatsApp number children could contact to interact with Momo.

It has resurfaced recently, with claims that it was reportedly found on YouTube Kids and embedded in several online programmes for children. The news sent chills to parents across countries.

While it has been debunked as a hoax by YouTube, CyberSecurity Malaysia (CSM) wants parents to be on the alert nonetheless.

So far, CSM has not received any reports of the so-called Momo challenge or other dangerous games in Malaysia although some parents reportedly said their children have seen the Momo image online.

CEO of CyberSecurity Malaysia Datuk Dr Amirudin Abdul Wahab condemned the viral hoaxes and called on parents to monitor their child’s online activity and educate them about the possible dangers.

“Set clear rules at home for using the smartphone,” he said.

A total of 36 incidents of cyber harassment, fraud, intrusion and content-related issues were reported to Cyber999 involving children aged 18 and below in 2018.

Of the total, 16 were on social media, Dr Amirudin revealed.

He urged the public to report any cybersecurity incidents to Cyber999’s help centre by calling its 24-hour line at 019-266 5850.

The Momo challenge has been compared to a similar disturbing Internet game known as the Blue Whale challenge in 2016, in which the final challenge required the player to commit suicide.

But according to authorities, there have been no corroborated reports of any child taking his or her life after participating in the so-called Momo challenge.

YouTube has said it hasn’t seen any recent evidence of videos promoting the Momo challenge on its platform.

If the videos did exist, a spokesperson for YouTube said in a tweet, they would be removed instantly as “videos encouraging harmful and dangerous challenges are against our policies”.

Mother-of-two Jasmin Choy said she has talked to her children about the dangers of viral hoaxes and games like the purported Momo challenge.

“They are aged 11 and 13 so they know what to do, but what about younger kids?” she said, adding that it was a problem when parents do not know what their children are doing online.

“I admit there are times that I’m not sure what my children are watching online when I am cooking in the kitchen. But I try to make them sit where I can see what they are doing,” said Choy, an administrator of Malaysia Education Info, a Facebook parenting group.

She has access to her children’s online activity history too, as an added measure.

On another matter, CSM will be organising a free seminar titled “Youth Cyber Wellness in the Digital Era” to educate youths on being responsible and protected online on March 7 at the Putrajaya Marriott Hotel.

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