Children at a Blackpool school have been warned about 'Momo', the internet phenomenon that allegedly tells children to take part in depraved 'challenges' - and tells them they will be hurt if they try to tell.
Revoe Learning Academy head teacher Dayle Harrison talked about the so-called 'Momo Challenge' with children in an assembly yesterday to warn them about the potential dangers of the internet.
In a letter sent home to parents, he said: "My intention, as ever, is not to frighten the children, but to educate them about the dangers associated with the world wide web and social media so they can make themselves safe.
"I explained to them that the Momo Challenge encourages children to carry out pranks and dangerous actions which could make them be at real risk.
"I also explained that the Momo asks children to keep secrets away from parents, carers and trusted adults, and the character threatens the children that if they do tell adults about the Momo Challenges, then the Momo can hurt them."
The Momo Challenge is an alleged form of cyberbullying which can be found on WhatsApp, a mobile phone messaging service.
A woman with black hair and bulging eyes, named Momo - really a model created by a Japanese special effects company - allegedly encourages children to undertake different 'challenges', including self harm and suicide.
Mr Harrison said: "Parents and carers, please ensure that your child's access to the virtual world, through the internet opr through mobile phone access, is supervised and that you know what your child is doing online.
"I know you will be reinforcing how they should stay safe online. If there is anything else you think we could be doing to promote safety, please don't hesitate to mention your ideas to a member of staff and we will seriously consider them in our constant efforts to protect our precious children."
He added: "The critical thing is about making parents aware. We have been informed by our community, so we thank the parent who brought it to our attention.
"If children are exposed to this, they need to be aware of the dangers. Like with anything to do with keeping children safe and making them aware of exploitation in all forms, the messages have to be quite factual, which is why we have included online guidance.
"We have spoken with children without frighting them, which is the key. We don't want to raise their anxieties but we want to keep them informed.
"The Momo Challenge is part of wider exploitation and we are educating children about keeping safe in the real world as well as the virtual world. What we won't do is shy away from our responsibility and duty of care to children."
Police cadets will be visiting the school this afternoon to discuss exploitation in all forms and how to avoid it.
A warning from National Online Safety, shared by Blackpool police officer Claire Vandeursgoss, said: "Momo is a sinister ‘challenge’ that has been around for some time. It has recently resurfaced and once again has come to the attention of schools and children across the country. Dubbed the ‘suicide killer game’, Momo has been heavily linked with apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, and most recently (and most worryingly)… YouTube Kids.
"There have been recent reports that that some seemingly innocent videos on YouTube and YouTube Kids have been edited by unknown sources to include violence provoking and/or other inappropriate content. Even though YouTube monitor and remove videos that include inappropriate content, clips can be uploaded and viewed thousands of times before they get reported and removed.
"Popular YouTubers and other accounts have been uploading reaction videos, showing their experience of the Momo Challenge
"The image of Momo can be deeply distressing to children and young people and it's important to note that it may slip through parental settings and filters."
National Safety Online's full 'Momo guide for parents', which includes advice about keeping children safe online, can be found at nationalonlinesafety.com/resources/platform-guides/momo-online-safety-guide-for-parents.
Hoax-busting website Snopes, however, said: “A good deal of skepticism remains that the existence of the Momo challenge may be far more hype or hoax than reality, with many critics citing the paucity of screenshots and videos documenting interactions with Momo.”