A disturbing ‘suicide challenge’ game that is targeting young WhatsApp users has triggered several warnings to parents after being linked to the death of a 12-year-old girl in South America. Momo is the latest online challenge that pits children against anonymous users, who may spur them to commit violent or suicidal acts. The premise of the game is to challenge teens to communicate with an unknown user, who will send them violent and disturbing photos along with continuous threats if they do not comply with the commands and tasks, which are to be completed within a particular timeframe.
The game has spread like wildfire across social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and particularly WhatsApp. It has also been likened to ‘Blue Whale’, another suicide game that gained notoriety earlier this year, and claimed the lives of many children across Arab countries.
Commenting on this new threat, Mohammad Amin Hasbini, Senior Security Researcher at Kaspersky Lab, urged parents to always be vigilant in monitoring their children’s behaviour and online activities, and who they are in communication with. This is especially critical during summertime, as with schools closed and fewer outdoor activities due to the heat, there is a marked increase in the average time that children and teens spend on their devices.
“Luckily, there are security solutions and parental control programs that can be used to monitor a child’s activity on the internet, or how much time they are spending online. However, parents should always pay close attention to any abnormal signs their child might exhibit. Some of the warning signs are poor academic performance or low concentration, sudden changes in mood, increased usage of devices at night, a sharp increase or decrease in the number of “online friends”, the appearance of “friends” with a noticeable age difference, and even the sudden deletion of their presence on social networks. Moreover, becoming aggressive, depressed, or even prone to self-harm, having less enthusiasm about things or activities they love, providing shorter answers in conversation, or showing other noticeable differences in interaction and personality can also be considered as signs. Parents should take these signs seriously and not dismiss anything,” said Hasbini.
Although authorities are making an effort to restrict access to harmful games and content, new sources spring up equally rapidly, and it is impossible to shut down every source of the threat. There are steps parents can take to minimize the risk their children might face online:
- Talk to them about potential threats from their online activity.
- Get involved in your child’s online life from an early age, so she or he accepts this and gets used to you being around and active.
- Engage in conversations about their online lives, so they feel comfortable telling you if they feel confused or sense danger.
- The “Oversharing” phenomenon is quite common today. Children might not fully understand the threat in sharing everything online, so it’s crucial you talk to them about the dangers of oversharing in a friendly and easily-understood manner.
- Establish a straightforward code of conduct for online activities. Always explain honestly why this is important. This code should be revisited for necessary changes as your child grows.
- Teach your children to caution about their personal life and sharing it on social networks. If necessary, get involved to apply privacy settings that would keep their private information visible only to close friends and family.
- Welcome the exchange of experiences: you might be more aware of online threats but your kids might be more tech-savvy. Share information and experiences and learn from each other.