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Momo: The Internet Hoax That Became Real

In 2014, twelve year olds Morgan Geyser and Alissa Weier decided to lead the third member of their friend group, Payton Leutner, into the woods with intent to end her life in the name of Slender Man. Payton was stabbed nineteen times and left for dead while her attackers ventured in search of Slender Man’s mythical mansion. Payton, fortunately, survived by using the last of her strength to crawl out of the of the woods and attract the attention of a cyclist. Three years later, Payton is left with physical and emotional scars and the fates of her two attackers are yet to have a definite sentence. The defence and the parents of the attackers throughout the case have pointed the blame at the fictional Creepypasta Slender Man. Today, the character has lost the fear and curiosity his fictional tale inflicted on the hearts of young people and enthusiasts all over the world.

A different creature has taken the place of Slender man, this time terrorising parents and children alike. Only this time it did not take Morgan and Alissa’s delusions to give it life. It took the power of the internet, online parents and complete access to the homes of millions to create Momo.

But where did Momo come from?

Momo is a name attached to a 2016 Japanese sculpture by the artist Keisuka Aisawa. The sculpture’s original intent was to be perceived as a mother bird, not a Creepypasta. When pictures of the sculpture were posted on Instagram, Internet culture transformed it into the face of the Momo challenge. It first circulated as an urban legend on the Spanish speaking web, and then transitioned to “a phone number that could be added to WhatsApp.”

The Momo challenge began grabbing headlines worldwide when a young Argentinian girl’s suicide was painted by fear and legend when connections were made to the Creepypasta. The claims that were made at the expense of a grieving family were later proven false.

The same story followed the suicides of two men in India. Neither of these tragedies’ links to Momo have been confirmed by the police but the internet has a much more powerful reach. Whether the information is accurate is an afterthought.

Always behind worldwide news, the Momo challenge reached Ireland’s parents when Northern Irish police tweeted a warning about Momo. Just a reminder: Momo’s reach and possible effects on young people’s mental health have not been proven by outside sources. The Creepypasta’s control continued. It continues up until this week as schools nationwide push out warning letters and schedule emergency meetings, prepping parents on how to deal with this new age attack on their children.  

Ireland’s extreme reaction cannot be overlooked. Yes, this would have been a more suitable reaction to the church’s crimes against children, but the internet makes it impossible to stop the spread of information, whether we are prepared for it or not.

Momo now has her own dedicated Wikipedia page and is the star of hundreds of YouTube videos claiming to have made contact with Momo or videos labelled ‘Peppa Pig’ and ‘Fortnite’ featuring Momo addressing children with chilling messages.

When speaking to the Irish Times, Trinity College Dublin’s Professor Brendon Kelly implies that Momo has had more of an effect on parents than their children. On the media, schools and parents’ reactions he had this to comment: “It strips self-harm of its meaning if we are implying that it is done casually in response to something somebody sees on the internet, when in fact it is a more profound act”.

This brings forward the question of reality and how close the internet is actually ingrained into our everyday. With challenges like Momo and the unfiltered definitions of mental health, we have to ask if our view of ourselves and human nature is now distorted? And if so, is it gone forever?