On mass hysteria and why it sucks

By: Reyshimar Arguelles

BEING the tech-savvy “digital native” you are, you already know about the Momo Challenge. Otherwise, you simply don’t care enough about new tech and the insanity of internet-fueled hysteria and how it’s going to lead humanity into a gruesome demise.

But for the sake of explanation, the Momo challenge is just one of many internet phenomena that have grown past the realm of novelty and assumed the features of a science fiction plot turned real. It involves a seemingly grotesque sculpture of a human-chicken hybrid, with big, bulging eyes and a mouth shaped into a beak. The sculpture was put on display by effects artist Keisuke Aiso, whose studio specializes in creating designs based on Japanese folklore and urban legends.

The momo sculpture itself is based on the ubume, a creature said to be a spirit of a woman that died during conception. Although the original depiction of the ubume is that of a woman holding a baby, Aiso’s version was shocking as much as it was unnerving. I am writing in the past tense here since the artist has destroyed the sculpture in a bid to put an end to the so-called curse.

However, it didn’t take long for the dark web to latch on the macabre work as fodder for mass hysteria. The image of Aiso’s ubume has been used in apps that look like innocuous mobile games for children. Through these apps, someone using the ubume’s picture as the avatar gives the children a series of tasks that they will need to accomplish lest they or a family member incurs Momo’s wrath. The tasks range from simple dares to twister acts of self-harm and violence until the “game” culminates in the unsuspecting child’s suicide.

It has all the trappings of an innocent urban legend (or, internetspeak, “creepypastas”) meant to appease everyone’s fancy for dark and mysterious pop culture items, but the Momo phenomena came to a head after the reported suicide of a child who was said to have toyed with the challenge. The media later covered this piece of macabre news, going so far as to mention unverified social media reports that credited the Momo challenge to a string of child suicides across the world, particularly in Russia where over a hundred children supposedly committed suicide.

The sensational reporting of the Momo challenge itself has added fuel to the fire, prompting a moral panic that has parents, the clergy, and the government to step in a bid to protect the youth from the perils of new media. But what exacerbated the problem was the fact that people continue to talk about it and, in the process, only add to the notoriety and mystery of this stupid challenge.

The Digital Age has its caveats. Because along with the convenience we get from instant messaging and teleconferencing, we are also treated to a side of it that’s dark and violent and disturbing. We can only imagine how manufactured hysteria through the internet can be weaponized in order to control and manipulate entire social groups. After all, symbols can spread like wildfire, and like wildfires, they are hard to put out.

Mass hysteria sucks because it forces us to throw reason out the window and let our basest instincts take over and inform us of the reality that’s taking place. The Momo challenge only proves our susceptibility to information that’s packaged solely for the purpose of cultivating distrust toward the internet as a medium of education.

I just wished that the bastards that started the Momo challenge should meet a real kuchisake-onna or slit-mouthed woman at an empty train station. Apparently, people being dark web douchebags deserve a fate worse than have their mouths carved from ear to ear using scissors.