Unless you've been lucky enough to be living under a rock for the last week, you've probably heard about the "Momo Challenge" that is causing concern to parents around the world. News coverage of the challenge has resulted in schools and even the police issuing warnings to parents.
There have even been claims that the material has "hacked" into YouTube and is appearing in a video featuring Peppa Pig.
The "Momo Challenge" has gone viral in the last week, with dozens of publications writing hundreds of articles warning parents about the challenge. Warnings have said that kids are encouraged to contact an unknown number on WhatsApp, which would put them in contact with Momo, including a profile picture of a distorted image of woman with bulging eyes. Momo would then encourage kids to commit violent acts though text messages.
One warning about the challenge from a Facebook user has attracted over 96,000 comments and 220,000 shares from concerned parents since it was posted on Tuesday.
But according to charities and fact checkers, it's all one big hoax. The Samaritans and the NSPCC in the United Kingdom have dismissed the claims and told The Guardian that there's no evidence whatsoever that the Momo challenge has caused any harm, but that the "ensuing media hysteria could now be putting vulnerable people at risk."
The NSPCC added that Momo Challenge has posed no threat to children, and that they've actually received more phone calls about it from members of the media than concerned parents.
The UK Safer Internet Centre called the challenge “fake news,” while YouTube said there is no evidence of any of their videos being "hacked." A YouTube spokesperson told The Guardian:
“Contrary to press reports, we have not received any evidence of videos showing or promoting the Momo challenge on YouTube. Content of this kind would be in violation of our policies and removed immediately.”
Fact-checking website Snopes also confirmed that the challenge is a hoax, and that the image of Momo often associated with stories is actually a photo of a sculpture by Japanese special-effects company Link Factory.
According to Snopes, variations of the Momo Challenge have been circulating for years in a number of countries, though no evidence has been found to link the challenge with any harm.
"The subject has generated rumours that in themselves can be cause for concern among children," David Mikkelson of Snopes wrote.
According to the BBC, police in the United Kingdom have not reported any instances of children harming themselves due to the Momo challenge.
The Samaritans confirmed this, stating that they were "not aware of any verified evidence in this country or beyond."
Calling out the hoax in a Facebook post, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said the challenge was "merely a current, attention-grabbing example of the minefield that is online communication for kids."
Andy Robertson, also known as Geek Dad online, said parents should not "share warnings that perpetuate and mythologise the story."
"A better focus is good positive advice for children, setting up technology appropriately and taking an interest in their online interactions," he said.
Kat Tremlett, harmful content manager at the UK Safer Internet Centre, advised that the hoax going viral could cause more harm than the Momo challenge ever would have.
“Even though it’s done with best intentions, publicising this issue has only piqued curiosity among young people.”
Tremlett said she had heard of children “white with worry” because of the media coverage exposing them to the hoax. “It’s a myth that is perpetuated into being some kind of reality,” she said.
Although the Momo Challenge may be a hoax, it's at least brought attention to the issue of filtering what kids watch online.