The Philippine Department of Education urges parents to be more mindful to the digital activities of children amid the so-called “Momo challenge” that reportedly leads to self-harm and suicide among the youth. (Philstar.com photo)

Philippine government officials in the education, health and law enforcement sectors urged the public, especially the parents of young children, to keep an eye on their kids’ online activities after accounts of the disturbing Momo challenge made its rounds on social media.

The Department of Education (DepEd) encouraged the parents to ensure “open communication lines” so that their children would be able to report to them any situation that would make them feel uncomfortable, coerced, or unsafe.”

“Distorted efforts meant to prey on the vulnerabilities of the youth should be resisted with proper guidance and education and by empowering the children with knowledge of their rights and responsibilities online and offline,” the DepEd said in a statement.

The Department of Health (DOH) also told parents to be familiar with the sites commonly visited by their children.

It advised them to be aware of their children’s activities and establish a limit on their use of technological devices.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG) Director, Police Brigadier General Marni Marcos Jr. reminded the public to report any incident related to the Momo challenge through the hotline 414-1560 or by visiting the nearest Regional Anti-Cybercrime Unit or any police station.

“While we have yet to determine where the ‘Momo Challenge’ originated and who are the individuals perpetuating it, we encourage not only the public but also other law enforcement authorities to form part in spreading awareness to prevent this purported suicide game from affecting and causing harm to our children,” Marcos said as reported by The Philippine News Agency.

The “Momo Challenge” 

The challenge gained traction when reports claimed that a user with the Momo image was threatening young children to harm and kill themselves.

The Momo image is a grotesque-looking female figure with bird-like body and legs, cropped from the photos of a sculpture made in 2016 by artist Keisuka Aisawa.

Reports also attributed the deaths of an 11-year-old Filipino boy from a drug overdose and a 12-year old Argentine girl from self-harm due to the alleged harmful instructions of the challenge.

Facebook to take down Momo challenge in PH

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) confirmed with the Manila Times that it is “in talks with Facebook” so that “they can remove it” at least from the social media platform.  

DICT Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity and Enabling Technologies Allan Cabanlong said that despite the “suicide game” being present in other social media platforms, removing it from Facebook would lessen the damage.

DICT Acting Chief Eliseo Rio Jr. said amplified the problem that the online challenge would cause if not eliminated altogether.

“[B]ecause of virtual peer pressure, children would accept the challenges because minors are still unable to differentiate fact from fiction. A creepy face and threatening messages to a child may become reality, leading to tragedies,” Rio said.

YouTube, however, denied the presence of the Momo challenge on its platform noting that its strict policies and regulation would prevent the circulation of the harmful online threat.

“Contrary to press reports, we’ve not received any recent evidence of videos showing or promoting the Momo challenge on YouTube. The content of this kind would be in violation of our policies and removed immediately,” YouTube said.

Online safety experts share tips to protect kids 

The National Online Safety, a group of online safety experts, shared a series of tips for parents, guardians, and teachers could so they could ensure protection and safety of their children from this purported “suicide game.”

– Tell them it is not real. Just like any urban legend or horror story, the concept can be quite frightening and distressing for young people

– Be present. It is important for the parents or guardians to be present while their children are online.

– Talk regularly. As well as monitoring their children’s activity, it is important for parents/guardians to discuss it with them too.

– Device settings and parental controls. Ensure the setting up of parental controls for devices at home.

– Peer pressure. Trends and viral challenges can be tempting for children to take part in; no matter how dangerous or scary they seem.

– Real or hoax? It is natural for parents/guardians to feel worried about certain things they see online that may be harmful to their children.

– Report and block. Parents/guardians should flag and report any material deemed to be inappropriate or harmful as soon as they come across it. They should also block the account/content to prevent their children from viewing it.

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