The Momo Challenge

Exploring the Emergence of a Major Online Demonic Hoax


  • Zoe Alderton The University of Sydney



Momo, hoax, demons, occult, Satanic panic, WhatsApp, YouTube


From 2018–2019, the spectre of Momo haunted the internet. Momo is depicted as a gaunt Japanese woman with long black hair, an enlarged mouth, and bulbous, haunting eyes. Allegedly, Momo responds to those who text her phone with violent imagery and explicit threats. She also encourages children to self-harm and shows them triggering images of gore, sometimes interspersed amidst innocent cartoons. Of course, Momo is not real and no one has hurt themselves in response to her ‘challenges’. From the start, Momo was very clearly a novel urban legend whose influence was magnified in the popular press and by their deeply-held suspicion of internet predators, peer pressure, and an online world in which technology makes any kind of sinister attack possible. Momo is thus an important case study in establishing the recent history of online demon fear, which feeds into broader trends surrounding ‘Satanic panic’ gateways into the occult. This article positions Momo as the latest manifestation of a fear that children are especially susceptible to evil, and that parents must remain vigilant to the corrupting forces of the demonic.

Author Biography

Zoe Alderton, The University of Sydney

Zoe Alderton is a lecturer in Economics at the University of Sydney.


Adejobi, A. 2019 Stacey Solomon terrified of ‘Momo Challenge’ for her children’s safety. Metro, 27 February. Online:

Alderton, Z. 2018 The Aesthetics of Self-Harm: The Visual Rhetoric of Online Communities. Routledge, Abingdon.

AlmightySosa00 2018 Reddit /r/Creepy, 10 July. Online:

BBC News 2019a Momo challenge: ‘Freaky game’ described as hoax. BBC News, 28 February. Online:

b Momo challenge: The anatomy of a hoax. BBC News, 28 February. Online:

Buenos Aires Times 2018 Police suspect 12-year-old girl’s suicide linked to WhatsApp terror game Momo. Buenos Aires Times, 25 July. Online:

Channel Mum 2019 The Momo Challenge: How to Talk to Your Kids About It. Channel Mum, 27 February. Online:

Chess, S. 2012 Open-Sourcing Horror: The Slender Man, Marble Hornets, and Genre Negotiations. Information, Communication & Society 15(3): 374–93.

Clark, N. 2019 Government is ‘extremely concerned’ about Momo challenge, Andrea Leadsom says. The Sun, 28 February. Online:

Cohen, S. 2011 [1972] Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers. Routledge, Abingdon.

Dellinger, A. 2019 Viral hoax Momo is getting its own movie. Engadget, 10 July. Online:

Drewett, Z. 2019 Police warn on Momo ‘suicide game’ after boy, 8, told to put knife to his neck. Metro, 26 February. Online:

El Deadpool 2018 Le mando mensajes a momo ‘numero maldito de whatsapp’. YouTube, 10 July. Online:

El Rincón De Giorgio 2018 AGREGO A MOMO AL WHATSAPP Y ESCUCHA MIS AUDIOS!! *+81 3 4510 2539*. YouTube, 13 July. Online:

flamethrowerjd 2019 Momo, Peppa the pig, and your child when you step out of the room. Twitter, 1 March. Online:

Foster, M. D., and K. Shinonome 2015 The Book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Herrman, J. 2019 Momo Is as Real as We’ve Made Her. New York Times, 2 March. Online:

Hughes, S. 2017 American Monsters: Tabloid Media and the Satanic Panic, 1970–2000. Journal of American Studies 51(3): 691–719.

itopronet 2015. YouTube, 20 May. Online:

Josephson, J. A.# 2012 The Invention of Religion in Japan. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

j_s_rock 2016. Instagram, 23 August. Online:

Kelly, T. 2019 People are trying to make Momo a positive meme. The Daily Dot, 28 February. Online:

Know Your Meme 2019a Momo Challenge. 11 July. Online:

b Momo Challenge: Image Gallery. Online:

Le Monde 2018 « Momo challenge »: Un père porte plainte contre YouTube, WhatsApp et l’Etat. Le Monde, 5 November. Online:

Lewis, J., and P. Freshwater 2019 Everything you need to know about the Momo Challenge. Grimsby Telegraph, 27 February. Online:

Lewis, S. 2019 Kim Kardashian warns parents of ‘Momo challenge’, but YouTube says it sees no evidence. CBS News, 28 February. Online:

Link Factory 2019 19/9/13 - 9/29LINK FACTORY presents. Facebook, 8 September. Online:

Luxumberger Wort 2018 ‘Momo Challenge’: Kein Fall in Luxemburg. Luxumberger Wort, 6 November. Online:

MacDonald, K. 2019 Parents: Don’t panic about Momo—worry about YouTube Kids instead. The Guardian, 28 February.

Martin, A. 2019 Japanese artist behind ghastly creature in viral ‘Momo Challenge’ baffled by disturbing hoax. The Japan Times, 6 March. Online:

Mayer, F. H., and Y. Kunio 1952 ‘Yanagita Kunio’: Japanese Folk Tales. Folklore Studies 11(1): i–97.

Mirror Now 2018 Momo challenge claims first life in India, Class 10 student commits suicide in Ajmer. Mirror Now, 22 August. Online:

Moore, M. 2019 BBC conceals how it fell for Momo hoax. The Times, 1 March. Online:

National Online Safety 2019 Today we’ve heard from hundreds of concerned schools and parents about the horrifying #Momo challenge. Twitter, 27 February. Online:

NDTV 2018 After Two Deaths, Bengal Grapples with Suicide Game ‘Momo Challenge’. NDTV, 26 August. Online:

N’Duka, A. 2019 Lance Reddick Joins ‘Faith Based’; Rapper YG Cast in ‘Tuscaloosa’. Deadline, 14 May. Online:

nexpoyt 2019 I’m on a mission to turn this Momo thing around. Twitter, 1 March. Online:

Notopoulos, K. 2019 How Momo Went from Viral Hoax to Viral Hottie. Buzzfeed Newpaper, 6 March: 3.

O’Malley, K. 2019 Momo ‘challenge’ appearing in Peppa Pig YouTube videos, parents are warned. The Independent, 27 February. Online:

Papp, Z. 2010 Traditional Monster Imagery in Manga, Anime and Japanese Cinema. Global Oriental, Leiden.

Partridge, C. 2004 Alien Demonology: The Christian Roots of the Malevolent Extraterrestrial in UFO Religions and Abduction Spiritualities. Religion 34(3): 163–89.

Partridge, C., and E. S. Christianson (eds) 2009 Introduction. In The Lure of the Dark Side: Satan and Western Demonology in Popular Culture, 1–22. Equinox, Sheffield.

Pendergrast, M. 2017 The Repressed Memory Epidemic: How It Happened and What We Need to Learn from It. Springer Science+Business Media, Berlin.

Photoshop Contest #115: Enter for a Chance to Win $25 2019 EBaum’s World, 28 February. Online:

Reider, N. T. 2010 Japanese Demon Lore: Oni, from Ancient Times to the Present. Utah State University Press, Logan.

A Demon in the Sky: The Tale of Amewakahiko, a Japanese Medieval Story. Marvels & Tales 29(2): 265.

ReignBot 2018 Exploring the Momo Situation. YouTube, 11 July. Online:

Reilly, J. 2019a Momo is Dead: Momo ‘suicide’ puppet maker says kids shouldn’t fear horrifying beast because it’s been destroyed insisting ‘the curse is gone’. The Sun, 3 March. Online:

b ‘You should die’: Momo creator reveals he and other Japanese artists received death threats over ‘suicide’ puppet. The Sun, 3 March. Online:

Ruffin, A. 2019 I’m taking Momo back. Twitter, 1 March. Online:

Samuelson, M. 2019 I gave #Momo a makeover so everyone can just relax now. Twitter, 1 March. Online:

Simmons, L. 2013 The Perils of Shape Shifting: Harry Potter and Christian Fundamentalism. Pastoral Psychology 62(1): 53–68.

Sugiura, L., and A. Kirby 2019 Momo challenge shows how even experts are falling for digital hoaxes. The Conversation, 5 March. Online:

Tarantola, A. 2019 Adults are the only ones who fell for the Momo hoax. Engadget, 5 March. Online:

Vanilla Gallery 2016

Vonow, B. 2019a Girl, 7, banged her head against school walls after seeing Momo video. The Sun, 28 February. Online:

b Mums’ rage at sick Momo videos STILL appearing in YouTube Peppa Pig videos. The Sun, 1 March. Online:

Waterson, J. 2019 Viral ‘Momo challenge’ is a malicious hoax, say charities. The Guardian, 28 February. Online:

Williams, T. 2019a Fears Momo spread to Britain as boy tells friends creature would kill. Mail Online, 21 February. Online:

b Terrified girl ‘hacked her own hair off after being caught up in Momo’. Mail Online, 27 February. Online:

Wojcik, J. 2019 The Real ‘Momo’... And the Grudge Girls! BOO-GLEECH. Online:

yuzuko16 2019. Twitter, 17 September. Online:



How to Cite

Alderton, Z. . (2021). The Momo Challenge: Exploring the Emergence of a Major Online Demonic Hoax. Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, 34(2), 155–179.