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The Real Challenge of MOMO

I am beginning to think that the challenge portion of the MOMO challenge is really directed at parents
and teachers.  It is a challenge for parents to not fall for a hoax, and not overreact to their child’s
technology use.  For teachers it is a challenge to develop student’s digital literacy and critical thinking
skills. The energy and fervor with which the challenge spread through the interwebs and into
mainstream media is testament to the basic parental desire of keeping their kids safe.

The MOMO challenge supposedly began with texting a number to WhatsApp or other messaging
platforms.  A set of tasks would then be sent to the ‘player,’ one per day, becoming increasingly dark,
eventually promoting self-harm and even suicide.  What is most upsetting about hoaxes such as this
to me, is that it trivializes the reality of teen suicide and mental health. It means that instead of
directing attention and resources to where they can most make a difference the media and a mob
mentality barrels down the road chasing MOMO.

Of course the MOMO challenge is not new, and like many viral hoaxes the origin is tough to pinpoint.  
Perhaps it is an evolution of the Blue Whale Game / Challenge in 2016. Below is a look at Google
trends for the past 90 days with the blue line representing searches for ‘What is the MOMO Challenge,’
the red line representing ‘blue whale challenge,’ and the yellow line representing ‘momo challenge
deaths.’  As you can clearly see the topic has exploded in the last 10 days.’ Less clearly visible is the
green line that shows a rising awareness. This is the search for ‘momo challenge hoax.’


Born from the same spirit as saying Candyman into a mirror three times, spreading panic about
Halloween candy, and countless other instances the MOMO challenge will not be the last sensation.  
And that’s ok. Viral sensations can be playful and even downright positive. Ice bucket challenge
anyone?  As I type these words someone right now is out there flipping their Vans shoes, recording
the event, and sharing it with others using #vanschallenge.  

As educators let’s do what great teachers have always done, use current fads to promote the best
that people have to offer and get our kids excited about learning.  Have your students search Google
trend data at trends.gooogle.com to get a visual on changes and developments over time. This can
be a great resource to visually organize data.  A good first activity is to have students search the term
Roman Numerals.’  They will see that searches for this term always seem to spike the end of January,
I wonder why?  How about including the #vanschallenge in your Physics class and have students
explain why they always land soles down?  I mean they do right?

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For more information on the MOMO challenge I found these articles especially helpful.

Lorenz, Taylor. "Momo Is Not Trying to Kill Children." The Atlantic. 01 Mar. 2019. Atlantic Media


Sakuma, Amanda.  "The bogus "Momo Challenge" internet hoax, explained." Vox.com. 03 Mar. 2019
Additionally the National Online Safety website has several guides (even one for the MOMO challenge)

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