What is Momo? Your guide to the horrifying WhatsApp meme billed as the new Slenderman

Just when you thought it was safe to go back on Whatsapp

Young people have a lot to contend with these days. A desolate jobs market, a global warming-induced heatwave that’s cooking you up real good, like a cat in microwave, and now even your bloody Whatsapp is trying to kill you. Yes, welcome to murky mire that is Momo, a meme that’s being blamed for death and destruction. Remember Slenderman? This was the frightening fictional character born on the website Something Awful; his slippery fingers sunk themselves into the minds of two teenagers who then tried to kill another child, claiming Slenderman told them to do it. The case was subject to a HBO documentary and will be explored in an upcoming movie. Well, Momo is arguably the new Slenderman, though its history is even knottier.

#momo

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Go on, then – what actually is Momo?

Like many an internet phenomenon, Momo was born on Reddit – specifically, on the ‘creepy’ sub-reddit. A reddit user posted the above image – a woman with enormous eyes and a giant, beak-like mouth – on the website. It was shared by another, and another, until the photo eventually went viral. The image was originally created by the Japanese artist Midori Hayashi, who has nothing to do with its terrifying reputation. Similarly, artist Eric Knudsen created Slenderman for a bit of fun, and has since widely distanced himself from the murderous implications of the meme.

Why do people think Momo is dangerous?

A lot of this is based on online hearsay and rumour mills, the 2018 equivalent of those chain emails that claimed a curse would be placed upon your entire bloodline if you didn’t forward them to at least seven people. My ancestors are absolutely fucked, let me tell you. Anyway, the story is that someone calling themselves Momo sets up a Whatsapp account with Midori Harashi’s terrifying image at its avatar. You text the Momo number and it sends you bizarre, manipulative messages that set escalating challenges, which result in your suicide. There’s crap bants on Tinder, and then there’s this.

READ MORE: Who is Slenderman? The Viral Bogeyman Behind HBO’s True Crime Documentary Explained

Which countries have become victims of Momo?

According to reports, Mexico, Argentina, United States, France and Germany have been subjected to its reign of terror. The monster messenger has yet to sweep the UK, though there’s a good chance it’ll come your way (unless you’re on the same network as me, in which case the signal probably isn’t good enough).

Has anyone died from Momo?

Police in Argentina are investigating the death of 12-year-old girl, which, according to reports, they believe may be associated with the Momo ‘game’. They allegedly unlocked the girl’s phone and discovered footage in which she claimed she would die for the purposes of the game. The suggestion is that the girl filmed the video before she took her own life.

Are there any other explanations as to what the hell this is all about?

As Scully would say in The X Files: there has to be a logical explanation for all this. According to Rodrigo Nejm, who works for Safernet, a Brazilian not-for-profit hotline to which concerned citizens can report dodgy dealings on the internet, there most likely is. He told the Portuguese language BBC site that he reckons Momo is a means for criminals to obtain data and extort victims who’ve become entangled in the game.

Who’s worried about Momo?

Parents, mainly. This is typical parent panicking lore, as is evidenced by coverage from websites such as tomsguide.com, which screamed in a recent blog post, ‘Don’t Let Your Kids Near Momo Suicide Challenge on WhatsApp’. It’ll never catch on like the ice bucket challenge, but parents are on particularly high alert in the wake of the ‘Blue Whale’, a similarly awful game that was blamed for 130 deaths in Russia earlier this year. All in all, the Momo meme is even scarier than seeing the read receipts go blue, but no reply.