Creepy internet hoax inspires local awareness campaign

HORNELL — Area schools are warning parents of a disturbing internet phenomena.

The "Momo Challenge" has been circulating the internet for several months, and has steadily gained attention as more and more children across the nation have stumbled upon it performing normal tasks like playing games, or watching videos on Youtube and other platforms.

Momo, a ghastly figure with distorted human-life features and chicken legs, is said to possess young people through their screens, prompting them to commit dangerous acts, or to harm themselves, or else, "Momo will kill you."

The Momo Challenge is a game found on platforms including YouTube, Facebook, and the app WhatsApp. It features a frightening character asking viewers to perform tasks that may harm them and provide photos as proof. Some of the challenges suggest performing them while in school. 

While there is no imminent threat from simply watching the video, it has inspired schools and law enforcement to urge parents to monitor what their children watch.

This week, several area schools sent out advisories warning parents of the Momo Challenge, to prevent further hysteria among parents. 

"This phenomenon is especially disturbing because it targets children," said a statement from Hornell School Superintendent Jeremy Palotti. "We would like to share information about this challenge and urge you to monitor your children's use of social media and the Internet. We also ask that you remind your children not to accept any invitation to play an online game from an unknown person or number, nor click on unidentified links."

Since the phenomena came to the attention of administrators, the school's technology specialists have been working to address Internet safety and appropriate use of technology, and will continue to do so regarding this challenge. The school's counselors, social workers, and school psychologists are also available to assist students and parents with their concerns.

In Bradford, Superintendent John Marshall also saw fit to bring attention to the issue.

"I am bringing this challenge to your attention In order to raise awareness and encourage you to make sure to carefully monitor your child's internet usage," Marshall wrote. "I also would encourage you to speak to your child about this if you deem it appropriate and necessary ... Please know as a school we promote and provide internet safety instruction to our students on a regular basis. If you have any questions about this topic or would like support in speaking with your child, do not hesitate to reach out to the school for assistance."

Specific examples of children being urged to commit heinous acts on behalf of the Momo character were detailed at Genesee Valley Central School, as Superintendent Dr. Brian Schmitt alerted parents in his district.

"A GVCS Kindergarten student reported to a teacher today (Friday) that she had recently seen 'Momo' while watching a YouTube video on her parent's phone. 'Momo' reportedly told this student to go get a knife out of the kitchen and hurt her mom. 'Momo' said not to tell her parents because it would come hurt her in the night if she did. The student reported she 'kept watching and watching.' The teacher asked why she did not stop watching and she said 'I just couldn't stop watching it!'"

He further advised parents not to buy into the hysteria.

"Further research demonstrates a significant amount of recent news coverage of the 'Momo Challenge.' Many articles call this a hoax," Schmitt wrote.

In addition to simply telling parents about the problem, administrators provided several helpful links encouraging parents to learn more, and to have conversations with their children if necessary, which included Momo Challenge Safety Tips and general internet best practices for children.