A Tory MP has called for a Government debate on online safety after being contacted by worried constituents about the so-called Momo challenge – which has been branded a hoax.
But Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom reminded Douglas Ross that there is no confirmed evidence that the challenge is posing a threat to British children.
She pointed to the fact that experts and children’s charities have dismissed the challenge as a hoax.
Conservative MP Mr Ross said: “Can we have a debate and allow the Government to explain what more we can do to protect and educate young people about the scourge of these online dangers?”
Mrs Leadsom said the “appalling” challenge was “one the Government is extremely concerned about” and new laws were being drawn up to force internet companies to protect vulnerable users, including children.
But she added: “In the case of Momo, organisations including the Samaritans, the NSPCC and the Safer Internet Centre have said there is no confirmed evidence the Momo phenomenon is posing a threat to British children.”
She said: “We’ve been very clear that more needs to be done to protect young people online, including from cyber-bullying and suicide and self-harm content, and internet companies do have a responsibility to their users.
“The forthcoming online harms white paper will set out a range of legislative and non-legislative measures to keep UK users safe online.
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The Momo challenge allegedly entices children to add a contact into their phones and then instructs them to complete increasingly dangerous tasks in secret with the threat of harming their families if they do not comply.
The messages are often accompanied with the image of Momo, a bug-eyed, skeletal woman with a long, thin mouth and scraggly black hair.
It has sparked concerns, with police forces releasing statements giving advice to parents and schools handing out letters warning parents about the Momo challenge and its potential dangers.
But Dr Dawn Branley-Bell, a cyberpsychologist from Northumbria University, told Yahoo News UK: “I believe that the Momo challenge is largely an urban myth or online hoax.
“This is the latest ‘hot topic’ which is spreading like wildfire due to its sensationalist nature and is causing a lot of parents to be unnecessarily worried.”
She said it would be better to focus on giving younger generations the tools and skills to help them be resilient to online content
“There will no doubt be another challenge that comes along, however, it is undoubtedly likely to involve an element of fear – whether that’s through the character fronting the hoax, such as the haunting imagery associated with Momo and Slenderman, and/or a fear of the consequences, i.e., the threat that something bad will happen to you or your family if you do not follow through with the challenges,” she said.
“They will continue to appear and this is why the key to addressing these issues is to raise awareness of online hoaxes without scaremongering.”