The Garda and PSNI have expressed concern that a “disturbing” online “challenge” which encourages children to harm themselves or others may have reached Ireland.
The so-called “Momo challenge” has - by some reports - started appearing on social media platforms in Ireland in recent days.
The challenge has appeared on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Whatsapp and on the game Minecraft.
It sees - mostly young - phone users encouraged to make contact with someone named “Momo” via WhatsApp.
Once they do so they receive graphic threats and are instructed to perform dangerous tasks to avoid themselves or their families being targeting further.
While there are some anecdotal reports of Momo circulating in other countries, there is little hard evidence that people have come to harm as a result.
The cyber predators use an image of a doll named Momo which is understood to have originated in Japan.
A Garda spokesman said it was aware of reports the “challenge” was circulating in Ireland but he stressed no complaints had been made to the authorities.
He said that when it comes to keeping children safe online parents needed to take an active role in what their children were doing and seeing on the Internet.
Detective Sergeant Elaine McCormill from PSNI’s Public Protection Branch said what while no official reports had been made to the authorities in the North, it was “aware of the so-called Momo challenge” and was liaising with other UK Police Services “to try to identify the extent of the problem and to look for opportunities to deal with this issue”.
The “extremely disturbing challenge” conceals itself within other harmless looking games or videos played by children and when downloaded,” and asks the user to communicate with “Momo” via popular messaging applications such as WhatsApp. It is at this point that children are threatened that they will be cursed or their family will be hurt if they do not self-harm,” Det Sgt McCormill said.
“I am disgusted that a so-called game is targeting our young children and I would encourage parents to know what your children are looking at and who they are talking to,” she said.
She said that while the threat of a curse “may sound silly to an adult, it could be a very frightening prospect for a young child and they may feel under pressure to carry out acts to protect themselves or family from further harm”.
She said the “most fundamental piece of advice that I can offer is to speak with your children - let them know that they do not have to deal with any concerns on their own”.
She added that it was “crucial that parents are involved with their children’s online lives and I’d urge parents to make children aware of online dangers and ensure they know that they can speak to someone if anything or anyone online causes them concern”.
CyberSafeIreland said it had been contacted a number of times in the last few days about the Momo challenge.
“We have not seen evidence of cases where this has caused harm to Irish children,” spokeswoman Alex Cooney said. “Clearly, however, there is some scary content relating to it, including YouTube videos that would be very accessible to many young children.”
She said there had been various “harmful and unhealthy challenges” that have done the rounds in recent years and called on technology platforms “to take more definitive actions to prevent children accessing harmful messaging such as has been reported in relation to this challenge”.
Ms Cooney said it is important that parents are aware that while the Internet brings great opportunities for fun, learning and socialisation, there are also risks that have to be managed, including access to harmful content or harmful contact.
“Parents should make informed decisions about their children’s online use, keep a close eye on things, and have regular conversations about what what their children are seeing and doing online.”