Technology

Momo challenge: Police advise over ‘freaky game’

PSNI Facebook
Image caption Police in Craigavon posted advice about Momo on Facebook

Momo may be creepy, but police believe it is clear it is being used by hackers to harvest information.

Officers in Northern Ireland moved to reassure parents about the doll figure with bulging eyes and a creepy grin.

Momo targets young children on social media.

The doll encourages them to add a contact on messaging service WhatsApp, then hounds them with violent images and dares.

It encourages them to self-harm and the ultimate post tells them to take their own lives.

But police in Northern Ireland said that while headlines like “suicide game hits UK” might get thousands of clicks online, they “miss the bigger issue”.

“Great for a short-term shock effect, but not great long-term as it somewhat misses the bigger issue,” said the PSNI in Craigavon in a Facebook post.

A police officer said Momo was clearly run by hackers who are looking for information.

“Whatever or whoever is behind it, there is no disputing the content being sent is horrendous,” reads the post.

“A ‘curse contact’ sends a number and tells you to contact them on WhatsApp.

“One video of such an interaction in America I’ve seen, shows an ominous-sounding voice recording being sent to a child telling them to take a knife to their own throat.

“Another threatens family if a ‘challenge’ is not completed. It’s chilling viewing.

“There are numerous variations and of course now imitators.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Going online can be a “minefield” for children, say police

Police said the danger lay with children feeling pressured to either follow the orders on any app by carrying out “challenges”, or because of peer pressure in chat rooms.

“This is merely a current, attention-grabbing example of the minefield that is online communication for kids,” reads the PSNI Facebook post.

“In 2017, it was ‘Blue Whale‘, now it’s ‘Momo’. There’ll be something else next.”

Police have appealed to parents to not simply focus on Momo, urging them to:

  • Ensure they know what their children can access online
  • Ensure children understand the importance of not giving personal information to anyone they do not know
  • Tell their children no-one has the right to make them do anything they do not want to do
  • Use parental controls to keep children safe

Police in the Republic of Ireland have also raised concerns about Momo, appealing to adults to supervise children and vulnerable people’s online activity.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Parents should talk regularly with children about online risks, says the NSPCC

A spokesperson for the NSPCC in Northern Ireland said: “The constantly evolving digital world means a steady influx of new apps and games and can be hard for parents to keep track of.

“That’s why it’s important for parents to talk regularly with children about these apps and games and the potential risks they can be exposed to.

“The NSPCC publishes advice and guidance for parents on discussing online safety with their children, as well as Net Aware – the UK’s only parental guide to social media and gaming apps.”

Among the most common signs to watch out for include children who:

  • Become very secretive, especially about what they are doing online
  • Are spending a lot of time on the internet and social media
  • Are switching screens on their device when approached
  • Are withdrawn or angry after using the internet or sending text messages
  • Have lots of new phone numbers or email addresses on their devices

If adults are concerned or have any questions on how to approach the subject with their children, they can contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or visit the NSPCC website.

Children who are worried about their activity on apps or online games can contact Childline 24 hours a day, online and over the phone on 0800 1111.

You can find more advice and tips on how children can navigate life online at BBC Own It, which has been set up to help 8 to 12 year olds deal with anything they might encounter online.

It is understood the original artwork used by the hackers has been taken from a designer in Japan who has no connection whatsoever with the Momo challenge.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-47359623

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