Local authorities in the Philippines have warned parents to monitor their children’s use of the internet after reports that a dangerous online “challenge” encouraging kids to commit suicide has claimed its first Filipino victim.
Chlyv Jasper “CJ” Santos is an 11-year-old boy who recently took his own life in his school in Quezon City. His mother, Paula Bautista, believes that the boy’s suicide was influenced by an internet trend called the “Momo Challenge.”
“I will follow my master and I will kill them,” the boy reportedly said while he was in the intensive care unit.
After his death, his mother discovered that CJ had a classmate who would hurt himself in school. She also found messages between CJ and the classmate talking about suicide games.
According to the mother, she then discovered her son’s online search history which included the “Momo Challenge.”
According to recurring reports about the “Momo Challenge,” it is supposedly an online trend that entices children and adolescents to perform a series of dangerous tasks, including violent attacks and suicide, by a user named Momo via the WhatsApp app.
Although the game has reportedly been blamed for teen and pre-teen suicides in Argentina, France, and Belgium, no link between Momo and the deaths has been established in any of the cases.
While widely discredited by experts as an internet hoax, stories of this so-called “Momo Challenge” have been continuously spread by media outlets and netizens on social media.
Stories shared online claim that the phenomenon had become a global problem since July 2018. However, the number of actual complaints was relatively small and not a single police force from anywhere in the world has confirmed that anyone was harmed as a direct result of the “Momo Challenge.”
Reports of the alleged challenge resurfaced in February 2019 after the Police Service of Northern Ireland posted a new public warning on Facebook.
Web security experts have stated that the numerous rumors of suicide related to the “Momo Challenge” are likely a case of moral panic — a sensationalized hoax fueled by unverified media reports.
According to Benjamin Radford, it is “fueled by parents’ fears in wanting to know what their kids are up to… There’s an inherent fear in what young people are doing with technology.”
Radford noted, however, that like all urban legends, “there’s a kernel of truth to [online suicide challenges], in that cyberbullying does happen. Sexual extortion does happen. These things are real, and they do happen. So that makes it plausible to parents and school administrators.”
Meanwhile, YouTube has also confirmed that it hasn’t seen any evidence of videos showing or promoting the “Momo challenge” on its platform. A spokesperson for YouTube stated that if the videos did exist, they would be removed instantly for violating the platform’s policies.
In an interview with CNN Philippines, National Bureau of Investigations Cybercrime Division Chief, Victor Lorenzo stressed that they have yet to handle a case directly linked to the “Momo Challenge.”
“We have not handled a case directly connected to the ‘Momo Challenge,'” Lorenzo noted. “Although we recently handled one about a child committing suicide, there is still no direct association to the Momo Challenge.”
While the Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group (PNP-ACG) has acknowledged that the challenge is a mere product of sensationalism, it still urged parents to be vigilant and monitor their children’s online activities.
“It still boils down to parenting. It’s not enough that we buy our children gadgets. Parents still have to give guidance,” PNP-ACG chief Police Brig. Gen. Marni Marcos was quoted as saying.
The Philippines’ Department of Education (DepEd) has also released a statement advising parents to maintain open communication with their children and educate them about responsible online behavior to avoid threats.
“Parents and guardians are urged to maintain an open communication with their children, educate them about responsible online behavior, monitor what they access online, and help them understand that their parents and guardians are the foremost people they can trust about matters that make them feel uncomfortable, coerced, or unsafe,” DepEd said.