Young girl's death linked to WhatsApp game 'Momo'

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Parents are being warned about a dangerous WhatsApp "challenge" after it was linked to the suicide of a 12-year-old girl in Buenos Aires.

Authorities believe an 18-year-old may have encouraged the young girl to take her own life as part of the terror-based game Momo, according to the Buenos Aires Times. Momo is a game where the controller encourages players to harm themselves via violent messages sent through the messaging app. And, if they don't comply, they are reportedly threatened. 

"The phone has been hacked to find footage and WhatsApp chats, and now the alleged adolescent with whom she exchanged those messages is being sought" police said in a statement. They added that they believe the young girl's intention was to upload video footage to social media as part of a challenge crediting the Momo game.

According to a tweet posted by The Computer Crime Investigation Unit of the State of Tabasco, Mexico, Momo originated on social media.

"It all started in a Facebook group where participants were challenged to start communicating with an unknown number," they tweeted. "Several users said that if they sent a message to Momo on their cell phone, the response came with violent and aggressive images, and some say they had messages answered with threats.

"The risk of this challenge among young people and minors is that criminals can use it to steal personal information, incite suicide or violence, harass, extort and generate physical and psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression and insomnia."

Spanish Police have also issued a warning about the challenge, which has been likened to the Blue Whale suicide "game" responsible for a spate of deaths in Russia. 

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The terrifying avatar is taken from a sculpture by Japanese artist Midori Hayashi, who is not associated with the game.

But while Momo might be spreading overseas - there are reportedly three different numbers associated with the account in Japan, Mexico and Columbia -  should parents in Australia be concerned?

Parenting expert Martine Oglethorpe, says that while she hasn't seen any evidence of the challenge in Australia, WhatsApp is not as popular with Aussie tweens and teens as it is in some countries. That said, the tragedy is a reminder that parents need to be vigilant about what their children are up to online - and how to keep them safe.

"I was presenting at a school recently and all of the kids up to Grade Six had no way of telling me how they could determine if someone was who they say they are online," Ms Oglethorpe says. "When I ask them how they would know if Justin Bieber was the real deal if he wanted to chat to them online every single class said things like "I'd ask him what his first song was he wrote, or his Pet's name when he was little because you wouldn't know that stuff if you weren't really him."

And that's what parents need to be mindful of.

"I am reminded daily that the cognitive development is just not there yet for these kids if they are allowed on these games without proper settings and supervision," she says.

If you or someone you know is in need of support, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 224 636.