Belfast Telegraph

Momo challenge 'fake or grossly exaggerated,' says child protection expert

String of charities dismiss reports of 'suicide game' as hoax

Police have warned parents of the dangers of the Momo Challenge.
Police have warned parents of the dangers of the Momo Challenge.
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

A child protection expert said reports of a potentially deadly "suicide game" said to be targeting Northern Ireland children are either "fake" or "grossly exaggerated".

On Thursday a string of charities, including the NSPCC, the Samaritans and the UK Safer Internet Centre dismissed the reports as a "hoax". YouTube said claims it appeared on its platform were false saying content of that nature would be removed.

However, Jim Gamble said the advice on managing online risks to children were "spot on" from the PSNI and parents should be aware of them and how to encourage their children to identify and deal with them.

"If this isn't fake news - and I am not entirely sure it is fake - then it is grossly exaggerated," Mr Gamble said.

"Some fact-checking at an early point would have shown at the very worst this is grossly exaggerated. So it is a lesson in managing fake or exaggerated news."

Over the weekend the PSNI sent out a Northern Ireland-wide alert to warn parents of the potential dangers of the so-called "suicide challenge game". It said a creepy character appeared in apparently harmless looking videos and issued a set of demands warning not to tell parents and of the possibility of a curse if instructions were not followed.

One officer posting on the Craigavon Facebook page said he had watched footage saying there was "no disputing" the content was "horrendous".

The officer encouraged parents not to focus solely on the character of Momo but instead the potential dangers the online world presented, or that peer pressure can pose to young children.

"In 2017 it was 'Blue Whale', now it's 'Momo'. There'll be something else next," the officer added.

The PSNI has always stated it had no reports made directly to it of the character appearing.

Child protection expert Jim Gamble
Child protection expert Jim Gamble

Charities, including the NSPCC, the Samaritans and the UK Safer Internet Centre dismissed the reports as a "hoax". YouTube said claims it appeared on its platform were false saying content of that nature would be removed.

Former police officer Jim Gamble worked on researching the 'Blue Whale' phenomena and found that instead of the hundreds of child suicides cases it was said to be responsible for, there were just two linked cases.

He said he had seen other credible law enforcement agencies spread warnings of the Momo challenge and not just the PSNI.

"The police are damned if they do and damned if they don't," he added, "we are all learning lessons here. It is important for law enforcement to get prevention messages out as soon as possible.

"In child protection you want to pause, think and consider the consequences of your actions and then plan what to do.

"I'm sure the police will pause and reflect and they are good at that. They are alert to these issues and 99 times out of 100 they do the right thing."

He added: "There is a positive in that you can use it as a mechanism in a constructive and positive way. You can address the issue with children and let them unpack what they already know and then educate them on what they need to do.

"You don't want to build on the curiosity - curiosity killed the cat. Sometimes it may sound basic.. but it is back to basics we need sometime.

"Ask children would they know what to do if they see something that concerns them or if they felt something wasn't right - and say to them 'you can always talk to me'. Parents and carers may not know much about technology, but they know a lot about life.

"The Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland, police and schools need to work on a single coherent message and make sure they highlight concerns responsibly and they provide an action plan. What to look for and what to do if there is a problem."

The PSNI said they were committed to keeping people safe both online and in the real world.

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