It all starts when you receive a phone contact named "Momo." You will be asked to save this contact to your phone, and when you do, you will be acquainted with Momo, a ghastly face with exaggerated features like protruding eyes, large nostrils and a creepy smile. It knows all your personal details, like the names of your siblings or the route your parents take to work. Then the threats start; and if you don't comply, Momo will tell you that it can hurt someone you love. A 12-year-old girl from Argentina was among the first to fall prey to these threats. According to reports, the girl was intimidated to such a great extent, that she was forced to take her own life. Dubbed the Momo Suicide Challenge, the sinister game (for the lack of a better word) has surfaced roughly a year after another deadly internet challenge The Blue Whale, which had been giving parents sleepless nights.
Anyone who has spent enough time on the internet knows that it can be a sinister place, which can unfold unbelievable horrors. From cyberbullying to revenge porn, the repercussions of not watching one's steps on the web can be devastating. The menace has multiplied manifold after the advent of smartphones and high-speed internet. Parents with teenage children who used these smartphones found themselves ill at ease after news of mysterious teen suicides were on the rise in July-August-September of 2017. Reports suggested that the teens were victims to an online suicide challenge known as the Blue Whale Challenge.
Here's a low down of the challenge:
What it Entailed
The Blue Whale Challenge is a misleading name for a very sinister challenge. The name Blue Whale conjures up images of the gentle giants of the sea, but is, in fact, a reference to the beached whale phenomenon where these sea mammals strand themselves on land and die. The game is controlled by a complex network of admins who trawl the internet, looking for victims.
It lured children and teens online into its maze by instructing them to complete a set of 50 challenges, ranging from watching scary movies to cutting oneself. By the 50th challenge, the child reaches a point of no return. He or she may have no sense of free will, ultimately plunging to his or her death as the final step of the challenge.
There have been around 19 reported cases of the casualties of the Blue Whale Challenge, from countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and even India. The suicide of 14-year-old Manpreet was what focused the attention of the country towards the deadly challenge.
How Do Children Fall Prey To These Challenges?
How do the admins of the game persuade the children to go against their own self-preservatory instincts and take their own life? And more importantly, how do they do it without talking to or meeting the child in real life? Games such as the Momo Suicide and Blue Whale are crafted to play with the child’s psychology. They first work by isolating the victims from their friends and family. The set of tasks assigned to them intend to deprive them of their support system and disconnecting them from the rest of the world.
These games also target children who are already facing self-esteem issues. So completing the tasks gives them a sense of accomplishment, at least in the early stages of the game. It gives them the false sense of being appreciated and recognised for their efforts, hooking them on to the game. Before they know it, the challenges become more and more sinister. One of the tasks centred on sleep deprivation also makes them more vulnerable to suggestions. Here’s a fun fact: Sleep deprivation as a torture technique has been used illegally by law enforcement to brainwash and coerce suspects to confessing crimes they didn’t commit.
What Can Parents Do?
The Blue Whale Challenge could have got out of hand, considering the covert nature of the game that made monitoring difficult. To add to this the challenge of dealing with children in their adolescent years. Although 19 deaths due to an online challenge are serious, timely action by parents and educational institutions helped clamp down on the menace before it took more lives. Educating children about the horrors of such games and closely monitoring the behaviour of the child helped send the Blue Whale Challenge back to oblivion.
Those worried about the Momo Suicide Challenge can learn from some of the best practices from the Blue Whale Challenge. Here are a few shared by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights:
• Keep yourself informed and do your own research about the challenge. Don’t give into a media frenzy.
• Watch out for any mood changes in your child. Any sudden withdrawal, moodiness or lack of communications should be red flags. Consult a child psychologist.
• Inculcate a relationship of trust with the children. Be approachable and don’t reproach. It will only make the child more secretive and disdainful of you.
• Educate the child and encourage independent thinking instead of following the herd mentality. Tell them about the repercussions of such games.
• Monitor your child’s internet behaviour covertly and keep track of his or her friends.
• Make sure your child has access only to age-appropriate sites.
• Be a role model to your child and be mindful of your own online activities.
When the Blue Whale Challenge was tackled, parents heaved a collective sigh of relief, thinking it was the last of such deadly challenges. But it’s disturbing that a challenge modelled on the Blue Whale has cropped up exactly a year after. Although the menace seems to be contained, as parents, one cannot ignore the sudden influx of such dark games, including Slender Man, that can have invaded the world. The best bet at such times is for parents to be more media savvy and communicate more openly with their children.