Geraldine Strawbridge

Geraldine Strawbridge is a graduate from the University of Glasgow. As the Editor of Cyber Radio, Geraldine is focused on delivering the latest cyber security news whilst making cyber security more relatable to people in their everyday lives.

A disturbing new game that’s encouraging young children to perform a series of dangerous challenges has spread to the UK.

The game originated in Mexico but has quickly spread throughout the world and has allegedly been linked to the death of a 12-year-old girl in Argentina and a 16-year-old boy in Columbia.

The game is gaining global attention and concerned parents are scrambling for information on what the game is and how it could potentially target their children.

What is the Momo Challenge?

Momo is a new viral game that encourages children to perform a number of challenges in order to meet ‘Mother bird’, a creepy looking woman, with bulging eyes and bird like feet. The image is undoubtedly disturbing and could easily upset or worry a young child.

Momo has been reported on various social media platforms, however it’s primarily being played on WhatsApp. The basic premise of the game is to pressurise and blackmail children into performing a series of challenges. The challenges often start off quite harmlessly, children may be asked to go downstairs at night to turn on household appliances, but the requests quickly turn more sinister.

As the challenges intensify, the user is told to take a video or photo of themselves cutting their arms or legs, jumping off a roof or other dangerous and life-threatening activities.

If the young child or teen fails to comply with the request, they are sent threatening and violent images and told that Momo will visit them in person, haunt them in their dreams or harm their family.

The challenge is primarily preying on the vulnerability of young children. It exploits the fear factor, and young kids susceptible to peer pressure may feel they have to complete the game in order to fit in with their friends.

Older kids may realise the game is nothing more than a scary online meme designed to generate a buzz, but for a younger child, the game may be truly terrifying and have devastating consequences.

The game has chilling similarities to the ‘Blue Whale Challenge’ which was linked to 130 teenage deaths in Russia in 2017.

Who’s behind the game?

The Police Service of Northern Ireland believe the real culprits behind the Momo challenge are hackers who are using the game as a guise to steal personal information. In a post on Facebook, the police said: “Basic open source research suggests that ‘Momo’ is run by hackers who are looking for personal info.

“The danger lies with your child feeling pressured to either follow the orders of any app via ‘challenges,’ or peer pressure in chat rooms and the like. Don’t focus only on Momo, but make sure you know what your child has online access to. It’s important that your child knows not to give out personal info to anyone they don’t know.”

What should parents do to protect their children?

The game highlights the challenges that parents face in protecting their children from online predators, and unfortunately, this threat extends far beyond the Momo game.

Parents need to have an open and honest conversation with their children about online safety and let them know that they’re always there to talk to if there’s anything worrying or upsetting them online.

Top tips to keep kids safe online

  • Set boundaries for how long your child can spend online and what sites they can visit
  • Have frequent conversations about online safety
  • Teach children not to talk to strangers online
  • Check privacy settings on a regular basis
  • Become familiar with the online games and apps your child is using
  • Install antivirus software on home computer and devices
  • Show your child how to report abuse and how to block people on the websites they use
  • Adjust parental controls to suit your child’s age group
  • Use a VPN

If you would like further advice and support on how to keep your children safe online visit: https://www.o2.co.uk/help/nspcc

The NSPCC helpline is open 24 hours a day, ready to give support and advice to any adult who’s worried about a child. Call 0800 800 5000, visit  https://www.nspcc.org.uk/ help, email help@nspcc.org.uk