Recently, people, especially parents and children, around the world were alarmed because of the spreading news about a viral social media challenge called the “Momo challenge”. Based on reports, a photo or video of a creepy girl with black straight hair, wide bulging eyes, pale complexion, and terrifying grin appears in between YouTube videos typically watched by kids like Fortnite and Peppa Pig which instructs children to commit self-harm or even suicide. There have been reports claiming that there are actual children who played the game and died. One of these kinds of news is from Fox News last September 2018 that links the death of a boy and a girl from Colombia to what the article called “Momo Suicide Game”. (Ciaccia “Viral ‘Momo suicide game’ blamed for deaths of boy, 16, and girl, 12, reports say”) However, it is now debunked, and current news articles claim that the challenge is nothing, but a social media hoax. The Momo avatar was discovered to be a sculpture made by a Japanese special effects company called Link Factory and is inspired from a Yokai (Ghost/ Phantom) in the Japanese Folklore called Ubume. (Dwilson “Momo Challenge & Mother Bird Statue: Midori Hayashi Did Not Create It”) WHAT IS THE REASON?
This is not the first time where people panicked and spread fear due to a nonexistent cause. People have been deceived by numerous hoaxes via different ways like the anthrax hoax last 2001 which are letters that contain white powder and are sent through mail trying to mimic the anthrax attack by the terrorists which infected seventeen people and killed five. (CNN “2001 Anthrax Attacks Fast Facts”) Also, the issue about Slenderman (2014) which was said to be the reason for a stabbing incident that involved three girls from Wisconsin, only to be proven that one of the culprits responsible for it had mental illness. (Beyerstein “Slender Man is a convenient target for our fears. Misogyny and racism aren’t”) WHAT IS THE REASON?
The term hoax from hocus means “to cheat” actually came from the jargon “hocus pocus” which we often hear from magicians. (Nares 235) Throughout history, there have been various stories which are discovered to be hoaxes, and the oldest form of a printed hoax according to the book Sins against Science: The Scientific Media Hoaxes of Poe, Twain, and Others was an almanac written by someone named Isaac Bickerstaff called Predictions for the Year 1708 which forecasted that an astrologer named John Partridge who was famous that time would die on March 29 from raging fever. (Walsh 18) Partridge replied and stated that people should not believe Bickerstaff. Because of these exchanges, people became interested to which of the two is correct. They waited and on the night of the twenty-ninth of March, Bickerstaff released an elegy dedicated to Partridge divulging that the astrologer admitted on his deathbed that he was a fraud and his works are plainly for the purpose of providing for his wife. People were amazed in Bickerstaff’s success only to discover, days after, that Partridge was still alive. There was also a bigger revelation when they uncovered that Isaac Bickerstaff does not exist for it was just a pen name for Jonathan Swift who is the dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin (Mayhew 270-280) You are probably asking at this point “why did Jonathan (Bickerstaff) did it?”. I think I can only provide the answer if we look at its context. As J.G.A. Pocock said in the politics of historiography , “ I have imagined historiography as the construction of narratives – to which the construction of contexts for narrative must now be added –concerned with certain sorts of action (including acts of speech and speculation) performed certain kinds of context, the latter defined very broadly and perhaps universally, in terms that range from chance through contingency to circumstance and from the random to the predetermined. The context is always partly, but never wholly, the product of actions performed in it, since the society may now be thought of as seeking to extend its control over the circumstances surrounding it. Part of the history of a society is the history of what it has done; to which we may add the history of what it says it has done, and the history of how it has come to say it—to tell this particular history” (Pocock 6) To put simply, history provides context and it is capable to somewhat explain why certain actions are done. There was the English civil war during that time and Europe is somewhat divided to Protestants and Catholics. People are also arguing which type of government is more beneficial to the people, monarchy (wherein a king is picked through divine right) or parliamentary (members are chosen through election). This division formed the groups named Whig which are pro-parliamentary and supportive of Protestantism (Hamowy “Whiggism”) , and Tory that advocates monarchy and encourages Catholicism (Charmly “History of Conservative Politics since 1830”).For simplicity, we can look at the Whig as liberals while Tory as conservatives. Partridge identified himself as part of the Whig faction and wrote shots about the infallibility of the Anglican church in his almanac called Merlinus Liberatus. He also predicted and wrote in the almanac that people from London will have raging fever (Partridge “Merlinus Liberatus”). If we look into it, Swift may have used “raging fever” as the cause of death of Partridge in his paper as satire to the astrologer’s prediction. Being a member of the Tory and the church, Jonathan may have also been offended to the tirades of John which led him to write something that would humiliate and cause disbelief to the Whig member.
Examining the context and history during the time that the event occurred helped us understand why Partridge committed the hoax. This led me to the question that if one of the first ever hoax had an agenda that is tied to its history and is satirical in nature , then what are the reasons to why people of today are producing hoaxes that spread fear and may cause chaos to humanity? Is this also a form of satire for us to realize how media illiterate this “tech savvy” generation are?
Ciaccia, Chris. “Viral ‘Momo Suicide Game’ Blamed for Deaths of Boy, 16, and Girl, 12, Reports Say.” Fox News, FOX News Network, 3 Sept. 2018, www.foxnews.com/tech/viral-momo-suicide-game-blamed-for-deaths-of-boy-16-and-girl-12-reports-say.
Dwilson, Stephanie Dube. “Momo Challenge & Mother Bird Statue: Midori Hayashi Did Not Create It.” Heavy., Heavy.com, 27 Feb. 2019, heavy.com/news/2019/02/momo-challenge-mother-bird-midori-hayashi/.
“2001 Anthrax Attacks Fast Facts.” CNN, Cable News Network, 1 June 2018, edition.cnn.com/2013/08/23/health/anthrax-fast-facts/index.html.
Beyerstein, Lindsay. “Slender Man Is a Convenient Target for Our Fears. Misogyny and Racism Aren’t.” The Guardian , 5 June 2014, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/05/slender-man-wisconsin-stabbing-misogyny-racism.
Walsh, Lynda. Sins against Science: the Scientific Media Hoaxes of Poe, Twain, and Others. State University of New York Press, 2006
Nares, Robert. A Glossary: or, Collection of Words, Phrases, Names, and Allusions to Customs, Proverbs, Etc., Which Have Been Thought to Require Illustration, in the Works of English Authors. Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Mayhew, George P. “Swift’s Bickerstaff Hoax as an April Fools’ Joke.” Modern Philology, vol. 61, no. 4, 1964, pp. 270–280. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/436196.
Hamowy, Ronald. “Whiggism.” The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Ed. Ronald Hamowy. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc., 2008. 543. SAGE Knowledge. Web. 9 Mar. 2019, doi: 10.4135/9781412965811.n328.
Charmley, John. A History of Conservative Politics since 1830. 2nd ed., Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
Partridge, John. Merlinus Liberatus: Being an Almanack for the Year of Our Blessed Saviour’s Incarnation 1708. Creative Media Partners, 2018.
1) What is the history of hoaxes?
2) Why do people commit hoaxing and why do people believe?
3) What are the connection to the readings?