A horrifying viral “game” that has spread through the popular WhatsApp communication tool could be responsible for at least two teen suicides in recent months, and law enforcement officials across the globe are issuing a strong warning to teens and parents alike.
The sick game – known as the “Momo Challenge” – involves a WhatsApp profile linked to Momo, a bird-like woman with distorted features and bulging eyes, Fox News reports. The Momo urges users to make contact, then sends a deluge of violent, disturbing pictures to the person who “starts” the game.
Next, the user is challenged to engage in self-harm and violence and instructed to offer proof that they’ve completed the tasks issued to them. If they don’t respond or comply, the Momo threatens to curse them, hurt their family members, or leak their personal information online, according to 9News.
The series of dares lead up to the final challenge: suicide.
Police say two young people in Columbia took their own lives just 48 hours apart last month. It appears a 16-year-old boy engaged in the game and passed it along to a 12-year-old girl before committing suicide. The girl hung herself two days later.
Authorities found messages from Momo-related accounts on both victims’ phones, according to Colombian news outlet RCN Radio.
“Apparently, they practiced this game through WhatsApp and it invited the young people to hurt themselves,” Colombian government secretary Janier Landono told Fox News. “The game has different challenges and the suicide is at the end.”
Along with Columbia, reports of the game have popped up in Mexico, Argentina, the U.S., France and Germany, according to the BBC. It’s become especially popular in Spanish-speaking countries.
A Momo avatar popped up in the wildly popular Minecraft game last month, prompting Microsoft to take swift action to shut it down, Fox News reported.
Law enforcement officials across the U.S. and the world are warning parents that the messages being sent to those who engage in the game are so graphic and terrifying that young people may feel they have no choice but to comply to “Momo’s” demands. Another large concern is that the Momo game is likely linked to hacking, which could compromise personal information and privacy.
Authorities encourage parents to establish strict guidelines for online communication, and completely ban engagement with unknown numbers or accounts. WhatsApp officials urge users to block any numbers associated with Momo and to report them immediately.
It’s important to know what to look for if you suspect your child may be depressed or contemplating suicide. We’ve included a list of signs below, as well as resources that offer help.
Know the Signs (American Psychological Association):
- Talking About Dying: any mention of dying, disappearing, jumping, shooting oneself or other types of self harm.
- Recent Loss: through death, divorce, separation, broken relationship, self-confidence, self-esteem, loss of interest in friends, hobbies or activities previously enjoyed.
- Change in Personality: sad, withdrawn, irritable, anxious, tired, indecisive, apathetic.
- Change in Behavior: can’t concentrate on school, work or routine tasks.
- Change in Sleep Patterns: insomnia, often with early waking or oversleeping, or nightmares.
- Change in Eating Habits: loss of appetite and weight, or overeating.
- Fear of Losing Control: acting erratically, harming self or others.
- Low Self Esteem: feeling worthless, shame, overwhelming guilt, self-hatred, “everyone would be better off without me.”
- No Hope for the Future: believing things will never get better, or that nothing will ever change.
Suicide Prevention Resources: