It is the Blue Whale all over again. Creepy icon, threats to family, list of weird actions, ending in suicide.
Being connected is a two-way street. It is not for nothing that the internet used to be called the information superhighway. Information or not, it is a superhighway and one that everyone would do well to navigate with caution, especially young people. The latest "game" to hit unsuspecting kids is the "Momo Challenge" that allegedly spreads via WhatsApp, YouTube and even a Minecraft plug-in.
What it is: You already know the details - an anonymous friend request from someone called Momo with a scary icon, and when you accept, apparently your phone is doxed and the hacker forces you to perform a series of weird tasks, threatening to harm your family or reveal your personal information if you don't comply. This ends in a suicide mission, as suspected in the case of the Argentinian 12-year old girl who hanged herself, leaving behind a phone nearby that had a video recording of what she was up to, as reported by Buenos Aires Times. Yesterday, it hit closer home when a girl from Ajmer slit her wrists before hanging herself - and friends and family suspect the momo challenge, even as her suicide note blames low grades.
Mass Hysteria and Self-fulfilling Prophecies:
With no actual proof linking any death with this game, the hysteria is building across the world - just as it did for Blue Whale - aided by a mass media that only seeks to sensationalize. This in turn, is causing a cascade effect. In Tamil Nadu, a scary momo message turned out to be a prank from a friend. Which begs the question, is this even real?
But the thing is, you don't need a “real” game for real damage. All it takes is a powerful prank and a message gone viral for countless vulnerable people online to get affected. And do you know how they get affected? By starting the game. Yes - you read that right. The biggest damage is not in playing the game but in starting it. Because it sends otherwise honest people down a rabbit hole of darkness, deceit, manipulation and an intoxicating power that sends them deeper down. In our analysis, these games are not intended to kill teens but to convert a large number of them into dark offenders. It is a sociopathic desire that tends to acquire a life of its own, due to the nature of the internet. And once someone does that - commit a dark offence - whether they confess to it or not, they cannot come back from it. That is the real damage.
So this brings us to how we can "beat" the game.
1. Don't start it. And we mean, do NOT start it. It is so easy and seems like such fun. All you need is an anonymous international WhatsApp number that you can get on many popular sites and a scary momo icon that you can now download from many hundreds of options. And then bingo, you can terrorize most of your contacts and their contacts with weird messages - could be a laugh, till it isn’t funny any more. Using fake IDs is a crime. Threatening people is a crime. Whatever is a crime in the real world, is a crime in the online world. Even if you think you are anonymous.
2. Don't support it. Most young offenders love to show off their handiwork and there’s usually a confidante. Please don't encourage your friends. This is not a harmless school prank - this is a digital crime and this could be life-threatening for someone who doesn't know better. So if you suspect anything, get help.
3. Don't spread it. Don't spread viral messages with scary pictures, talking about the challenge and providing contradictory stories. You are helping to spread panic. Send messages that come from a place of strength, not fear. News outlets can actually make this worse by irresponsible sensational journalism.
4. Don't play it. If you get a friend request from an anonymous number, do not accept. Do not engage. Curiosity might not kill the cat, but it can dox its phone and access the butter. Which brings us to the final point -
5. Clean up your phone. And your computer. Better still, don't have things you might not want seen in public. The power of anonymity gives us permission to do things that we otherwise wouldn't do in reality. But character is not about what we do in public, it is about what we choose to do when no one is watching. And finally,
6. Face your fears. If you are being threatened by anyone - momo or otherwise - do the right thing. Get help - from friends, parents, authorities. No one can make you do anything you don't wish to do, you always have a choice.