Dinosaur “Momo” allows Chinese Internet users some freedom

In China, to protect their privacy and escape harassment, internet users hide behind a pink dinosaur called “Momo”.

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From our correspondent in Beijing,

“Momo”, a small dinosaur, has proliferated in recent months on Chinese platforms such as Douban, Xiaohongshu or Zhihu. This pink avatar is part of the same family of emoticons as the bubbly poodle, nervous frog, red pig or happy horse, which are well known to Internet users who use WeChat.

“Momo” is not a new phenomenon. This was initially the default username assigned to new accounts on some platforms. The phenomenon came out of hiding earlier this year when famous actor Chen Feiyu got angry with “Momo”, who wanted to sue for defamation. This immediately led to a thumbs-up on the web, with support for “Momo” threatening to drive through the slogan “We are all Momos! » And since then, “Momo” groups, discussions around the nickname “Momo” and the usefulness of hiding behind the likeness of a pink dinosaur have proliferated on the networks. With variations: “Momo” milk tea, “Momo” medic, “Momo” fluorescent or “Momo” Harry Potter for example.

An avatar that can speak freely

Adopting “Momo” as a profile means avoiding harassing a celebrity fan if you criticize their performance, escaping criticism from colleagues or employers if you don’t like your comments on the internet, in short, it’s like having a double life. “After putting on Momo’s mask, I no longer have to think about every word I say, and I am no longer afraid of being cheated at any time. writes a certain “Momo” in a comment on Douban.

“Speech is so limited at this point that we can’t say anything more,” says another “Momo” on Xiaohongshu (“little red book”). “Being a Momo allows me to feel free from judgment and gives me a sense of community,” another student “Momo” confides. The rest of the world, a news site specializing in tech. In the ultra-censored and increasingly less interesting Chinese Internet, the pink dinosaur gives Internet users “breathing room”, writes a diary online Pangpai. We find “Momo” comments on the statements of movie stars and singers, but also when discussing sensitive topics, such as the difficulty of finding accommodation in big cities, finding a job, or even the risks associated with it. women’s rights.

Very relative anonymity

In a country like China, anonymity on the Internet is less and less allowed, but for “Momo” it is still tolerated, even as Internet watchdogs keep a close eye on the phenomenon. The Communist Youth Union has threatened to punish young graduates who complain online about rising unemployment. Some platforms have decided to no longer accept new “Momo” users.

In France, it is said that all “Zadists” are called “Camille”. In China, defenders of freedom or activists critical of the government in articles in the foreign press are nicknamed Wang (in Asia, individuals are identified by first name, not surname). Because “Momo” or not “Momo,” it’s the IP address that makes it easy for the internet police to find you if you engage in comments deemed political (or perceived to be so) on social media.

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