Social media has certainly seen a rise in the number of online challenges over the recent years. An online challenge is generally an activity or a task that the participant needs to complete, to move to the next level or to end the challenge. While there are some online challenges meant for fun and to create awareness, like the Ice Bucket Challenge, which addressed the topic of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), there are other challenges that pop up on the internet purely for the purpose of causing a permanent damage. An example of such an online challenge is the Blue Whale challenge which claimed the lives of many youngsters.
In the recent weeks, a new game/challenge has surfaced online and is encouraging teenagers to commit suicide.
What is the new challenge?
The name of this game is ‘Momo challenge’. Reported to have started on Facebook, this game is now circulating on WhatsApp. The account uses the image of a creepy doll with monstrous features such as large eyes and a wide mouth. It was later discovered that the image was actually a sculpture named ‘Mother Bird', made by Linked Factory and was displayed at the Tokyo Vanilla Gallery in Japan. However, the artist who created this is not associated with the challenge in any way.
The challenge is believed to begin when the participant receives a text from an unknown number. The unknown number calls itself ‘Momo’ and asks the participant to save the number under the same name. Momo gradually familiarises itself with the participant by calling itself as a friend and asking the participant to delve into personal details. Once equipped with the required details Momo calls the participant. When Momo calls, the participant can hear uncomfortable and horrific noises in the background, as though someone is crying in pain. Momo then encourages the participant to perform a series of cruel acts, with the final task of committing suicide. If the participant refuses to participate, Momo sends disturbing images and videos to the person, forcing him/her to commit suicide. Momo also threatens to harm the family members of the participant, based on the details it knows.
At present, the challenge has taken the life of a 12-year-old girl from Argentina who filmed her suicide, in which she stated Momo to be the reason.
What can schools and parents do?
Though most reports state that the challenge exists, certain experts say that it could be a hoax to steal private data. However, the challenge is viral in Japan, Columbia, and Mexico and was also reported in Germany, France, and America.
Experts say that it won't take long before the challenge arrives in India. The challenge targets children between 13 to 19 years of age, with low self-esteem. Parents are advised to notice any odd behaviour in their children.
Cyberlaw experts advise parents to follow the following steps-
Inform the child to not open any links sent by unknown numbers. Chats from unknown numbers can be deleted and the numbers can be blocked to prevent the spread of viruses that may pose a threat to personal information.
A tiny sticker can be used to cover the phone camera (front camera and back) of the child, as several apps are attached to the camera allowing hackers access live footage even when it’s not turned on.
Parents and teachers are also advised to counsel their children and track their online activities. It is safe to check their chat history and keep an eye on their friends or classmates in case any of them show a change in their behaviour.
It is also advised to switch off the mobile data when it is not being used.
Apart from this, parents and teachers should be available for communication, by encouraging the child to talk to them in case of any issue. Teachers can keep an eye on the children and their behaviour in the classroom.
While technology helps to unwind, one should not get carried away by its features. Parents should try to reduce the screen time of the child and spend more time together as a family, so that the child does not resort to connecting with strangers through social media.