Viral hoax Momo challenge doesn’t pose risks to computers, gadgets

March 4, 2019 - 11:56 AM
Computer virus on Unsplash
(Unsplash/Markus Spiske)

The viral Momo challenge which recently caused panic across the internet does not pose a genuine cyber threat capable of corrupting devices, a top anti-virus provider said.

In a report, cybersecurity Kaspersky Lab assured the public that this online challenge is not an attempt to spread malware and other computer-related viruses.

“It is important to remember that this not a genuine cyber threat in terms of infecting or corrupting devices or seeking to steal,” said David Emm, the firm’s Principal Security Researcher.

“However, it is a malicious joke intending to shock and unsettle and, as the craze gathers momentum and media hype increases, more people are going to be tempted to scare their friends or, more worryingly, use the meme to harass and intimidate,” it added.

Experts and critics since disproved that the trending but non-existent game directly caused the deaths of young children in many parts of the world, including the Philippines.

The perceived scary image of Momo was even picked up from an old photo of a sculpture called “Mother Bird” made by a Japanese artist named Keisuke Aisawa for an exhibit.

While the threat of the game falsely blamed for suicide cases does not seem intended to spread viruses, Emm said it’s about time parents have a dialogue with their children about such web content.

“As parents we need to maintain close contact with our children’s online world, and that open dialogue is the best defense against malicious content and cyber threats, as well as not accepting/opening any content from unknown sources,” he said.

Kaspersky offered five tips to parents for children’s internet safety.

  1. Have regular conversations with your children.
  2. Make sure your child understands they should not ‘friend’ anyone online they don’t know in real life, or add unknown numbers to their contacts.
  3. Activate safety settings, settings such as auto-play should be disabled and parental controls can be installed to help prevent children from viewing inappropriate content.
  4. Make use of the mute, block and report features.
  5. Never share personal information such as phone numbers, address, etc with people you don’t know.

Sensationalized reports

Critics blamed some international and local reports that pass unverified posts on social media as testimonies of alleged victims or participants of the Momo challenge.

Fact-checking website said the rumors began to spread in mid-2018 wherein the deaths of minors in Argentina and Colombia were linked to the game despite no verification from authorities.

Another explainer on the Atlantic likened this to the Blue Whale suicide challenge, which asked teenagers to do a series of 50 dangerous tasks, in 2015. It was later debunked as a hoax.

These stories reached local media. Controversial broadcaster Erwin Tulfo, for one, reported the alleged death of a 11-year-old boy who purportedly died by playing a suicide game.

The best defense against these harmful online trends is communication, a cyberpsychology expert said, given that the willingness to take one’s life does not usually have one cause.

“Those that are vulnerable to this type of content are likely to have other reasons behind this vulnerability. I feel that our time and effort would be better spent concentrating on addressing the reasons behind the initial psychological vulnerability — whether that is low self-esteem, mental health issues, or environmental issues — rather than the online content,” Dr. Dawn Branley Bell said.