Loudoun County Public Schools are warning parents about a new internet hoax that appears to challenge participants to take part in activities that could lead to violence or self-harm.
The “Momo Challenge” — named for the character that often appears alongside the hoax — initially appeared in July 2018 but has recently resurfaced, according to a statement from Loudoun County Public Schools. The challenge entices participants to take part in increasingly risky dares that could result in violence or self-harm if carried out.
There has never been a confirmed case of someone getting injured as a direct result of the hoax, but school systems are warning parents to keep an eye on it, and to talk to their children about the presence of these hoaxes online.
Warnings about the challenge swept Facebook and other social media in recent days, as parents worried about purported videos that encourage children to hurt themselves or do other harmful tasks such as turning on stoves without telling their parents. The parental warnings were accompanied by a disturbing image of a grinning creature with matted hair and bulging eyes.
But the challenge is believed to be a hoax. It’s unclear how many videos exist or to what extent they have circulated, among children or elsewhere. Some of the videos might have been made in response to media attention surrounding the challenge. Meanwhile, the image of the grinning creature is reportedly from a Japanese sculpture.
Fact-checking site Snopes said the challenge first appeared in mid-2018 linked to suicide reports without actual evidence. YouTube said it hasn’t received “any recent evidence of videos showing or promoting the Momo challenge” on its service.
Loudoun County Public Schools offered the following tips for parents to help them speak with their children about these types of hoaxes:
- Remind your child information shared on social media is not always true and how quickly misinformation can create a panic online.
- Children should never engage in conversations with strangers online.
- Be aware of the sites and apps your children are using and know their usernames and passwords.
- Turn off suggested autoplay on videos to stop children from viewing content they have not selected, and you have not approved.
- If appropriate, tell your children that Momo is not real and will not hurt them.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.