The Disturbing World of YouTube Challenges

Courtesy of Google Images

Bradley Hare, Centurion Staff

A child, no more than the age of 7, is watching “Peppa Pig” on YouTube’s Kids section. Peppa’s family is enjoying a day in the park having a picnic, Mommy Pig is getting harassed by an annoying bee, all seems normal enough. However, in a blink of the eye, the scene changes.

Now a still image of a woman stares at the viewer. Her messy long hair runs down past her shoulders. Her eyes are the size of golf balls, with black pupils only barely smaller than the actual eyes. A smile that appears carved onto her face spreads ear to ear. A threat is made, claiming that they will kill them in their sleep, appearing in their bed, unless they take part in an activity with the sole intention of harming them.

Thus, the Momo Challenge was born, or at least, that’s what it appears to be on the surface. In reality, it’s the latest in a long line of types of internet hoax, with this fictional story being a possibility in the minds of those that fear this challenge. A internet hoax is a message or post online with the sole intention on getting spread, with its real world equivalent being chainmail you get promised something good to happen to you if you share it with a certain number of people.

There have been no reports of any actual deaths relating to the challenge, and any that were made are shrugged off as a hoax due to a lack of evidence, like the 12-year-old girl who allegedly took the challenge. Even YouTube stated that there are no videos on the website that were up for a long enough time that promoted the challenge, as the act of promoting such a dangerous game is against their policies.

Regardless, this does however reawaken the fear and dread for parents, worrying about their impressionable children being safe online from disturbing and graphic content.
Internet personality, Jim Caddick, better known to his fan as Caddicarus, first heard of Momo through the ITV News station as well as from the school that his girlfriend’s children attend. Having access to the internet for as long as he has, Caddick didn’t panic like others did and saw through this as another powerless hoax. He did however, notice that other people were still panicking and felt like this was a real danger to their kids, and decided to make a video to discuss this alongside other online tricks, titled “EDUCATE YOURSELVES: Beware Of Hoaxes”.

“I’m not going to insult anyone’s intelligence. I know anybody with any semblance of logical problem solving, or any kind of adult in the audience will know, including parents, that Momo itself isn’t real, because, well, just look at it, it isn’t real,” said Caddick referring to the bizarre face of the dreaded Momo.

He was right on the money, as this dangerous Momo was a statue created by Keisuke Aisawa called “Mother Bird”, created on Aug. 25, 2016, two years before the Momo Challenge really picked up steam. The statue itself was harmless enough, being the face of Momo on its rarely seen torso; a body of a chicken, wings and claws included. On March 3, 2019, he was interviewed on the situation, stating that “People do not know if it is true or not, but apparently the children have been affected, and I do feel a little responsible for it.” He also reassured that the statue was already thrown out after it started to rot. “The children can be reassured that Momo is dead. She doesn’t exist and the curse is gone.” Aisawa promised.

Despite this, the fact that Momo no longer poses a threat doesn’t mean there is no danger; rather, the danger is now the mass hysteria that surrounds it. “Any damage being done, any trauma being inflicted, any nightmare and sleepless nights, they’re all due to uninformed mob mentality spreading it around.” Caddick explained in his video. While he did say that despite the possibility of this challenge working and causing a death, it seems unlikely due to a lack of evidence around it.

“Learn how YouTube works or simply supervise your kids whenever they’re on, and report those videos that trick you into clicks…YouTube is not a predetermined censorship like movies and TV.” Caddick suggested, referring to how parents need to play their part in halting fear before it gets a chance to spread.

Just like with most horror fads, the memories of Momo faded just as quickly as they entered, fast enough that some kids and teachers really didn’t know it was a thing. In fact, Caddick’s kids wouldn’t have even heard of Momo had it not been for school bullies scaring children into thinking Momo is coming for them.

Psychology professor Wilma Starr of Bucks County Community College had a similar experience to that of Caddick, with the school of her daughter alerting Starr about Momo. According to her research, anything about Momo really killing kids or being the cause of death is just a hoax.

This wasn’t the first suicide challenge that people were scared of; back in 2015, there was the Blue Whale Challenge, which encourages people to go through 50 days of self harm and hating yourself before committing suicide on the final day, with similar threats to their family should there be failure to comply as seen in the Momo Challenge. A suspect, 21-year-old Phillip Budeikin, was charged and arrested for being the alleged mastermind behind this after seemingly driving a teenage Russian girl by the name of Rina Palenkova to commit suicide, alongside 130 other lives being taken from copycat groups.

Even with seemingly concrete proof like this, flaws still pop up as the 130 suicides are also linked from other suicide groups with seemingly no relation to the Blue Whale challenge. There are also the fact that these “curators” of these games being kids between 12 to 14 years old with them never really starting the game. Add in a lack of any real way to prove that this game was the cause of their deaths, and it gets even more confusing, turning into a rabbit hole of madness.

Perhaps the most convincing part of the idea that stuff online can influence you to perform heinous acts is the now infamous stabbing of Payton Leutner, 12-years-old at the date of her near death experience, getting stabbed 19 times. On May 31, 2014, Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, both 12 at the time, tried to kill her to appease a fictional creature called the Slenderman, a faceless figure in a black suit who became a widespread internet phenomenal.

Weier was found to not be guilty due to her having a mental illness, and was placed in a mental ward for 25 years, while her partner Geyser was also found not guilty for the same reasons and were given 40 years in a mental ward. It should say something that in order for someone to carry out a heinous act, they had to have some sort of mental illness first, something that only one in five adults have, and even fewer having serious variants of them.

So, if there is no real way to prove these challenges are the cause of deaths, why do so many children think it has power? “Sadly, when younger people access online information, they have a tendency to believe, without a doubt, what they see or read.” Starr explained, already finding the idea behind Momo to be odd. Not only that, but add in the fact that children and even adults are willing to do some dumb stuff for their 12 minute of fame, and the danger of death begins to climb and add up.

“As with anything one hears, sees or reads, one needs to think about the validity of the claim in three questions; “Does this make sense?”, “Why would anyone do this?”, and “Should one do ANYTHING which is a challenge so that one can be viewed by everyone on YouTube?”” Starr clarified, using old YouTube trends of the Tide Pod and Cinnamon Challenges.

“I understand people have actually plummeted to their deaths due to their trying to get the ‘perfect selfie’ to post on their Facebook site that they didn’t look where they were standing. That’s a tragic and totally senseless way to die. But this story did make the national evening news! But at what cost?” Starr concluded, lamenting on the tragic nature people would go to get attention.

With all this said, the spread of knowledge is a constant trait that is needed to help combat the fear and thrill of doing challenges just to get internet fame. Above all else, there needs to be awareness for the fact that these challenges will only hurt you if you let them.