Online safety: SD46 warns of Momo

An alert has been posted on School District No. 46’s website warning about a viral character purported to scare children but which has been widely debunked as a hoax.

Safer Schools Together, a company under contract with the Ministry of Education, created the alert about the “Momo Challenge,” which the company claims involves a “a picture of a girl with bulging eyes” showing up on the instant messaging platform Whatsapp and inciting children to “engage in self-harm and suicidal behaviours.” The alert goes on to detail how the phenomenon has morphed, with threats to children showing up in popular children’s videos.

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The alert also provides links to credible websites with children’s content, counsels parents not to overreact and encourages them to speak with their children about online safety.

A representative from Safer Schools Together said the alert was intended for school staff and law enforcement agencies.

Staff Sgt. Poppy Hallam, detachment commander with the Sunshine Coast RCMP, said she has not heard any direct reports of incidents related to the Momo Challenge.

When asked whether the Ministry of Education endorses the alert, a spokesperson told Coast Reporter, “Regardless of whether a specific threat is real or fake, it is important to encourage parents to take an interest in their children’s online activity, and to talk to them about how to stay safe online and where they can go for help.”

Several news media outlets such as BBC have debunked the challenge, as have Internet safety organizations, but it’s veracity has also been misreported by news outlets.

“What’s interesting about the Momo Challenge is that it’s 100 per cent fake,” Darren Laur of the digital literacy agency The White Hatter told Coast Reporter. According to his research, the phenomenon has been circulating for approximately two years but has recently re-emerged, sparking a new wave of interest in the phenomenon.

In the past two weeks, Laur said, he has received hundreds of calls about the challenge from Canada and the U.S. and has observed parenting forums with thousands of posts spreading false claims. “It’s being fed by this flame of disinformation,” said Laur, adding that children are exposed to the now-viral image not because it is showing up spontaneously in their online content but because they are actively searching for it, often after learning about it from their parents.

Laur advises parents to ensure younger children are supervised when surfing the web and to fact check stories using reputable sources.

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