A major warning has been issued to parents after concerns that some children may be targeted by cyberbullying social media accounts.

The alert comes after a number of schools across the UK - including those in Cumbria, Cornwall, Essex and Northern Ireland - were informed that some young people have been messaged directly inviting them to participate in ‘The Blue Whale Challenge’.

What is the Blue Whale Challenge?

The challenge, which is named after the blue whale, first appeared online in 2016 and encourages teenagers, in particular girls, to undergo a series of 50 challenges that culminate in them taking their own lives.

How are the tasks given?

Tasks are given online or through text messages, instant messages or posts on Instagram and Twitter.

Some younger children are also being targeted through a social media platform called ‘Discord’.

What happens if they refuse the challenges?

Refusal to comply with the tasks can be met with threats by the administrators to release personal information on the young people that they claim to have.

What warning signs should parents look out for?

Signs to look out for include:

  • Children receiving messages or posts relating to Jonathan Galindo, a man that may also be seen with his face painted like Mickey Mouse or a dog.
  • Receiving or making references to #f57, #f40 or #IMaWhale.
  • Extreme changes to their eating or sleeping habits.
  • Wearing long-sleeved loose clothing to disguise any self-harm marks.
  • Taking photographs of activities and sending them to accounts that parents do not recognise.

Some of these signs may not be linked with the challenge, but could still be a cause for concern.

A picture of what Jonathan Galindo looks like can be seen below.

Basildon Standard:

Is the challenge real?

Last year, there was some doubt cast over whether the challenge even existed.

The BBC ran an in-depth report online into the origins of the 'challenge', which is said to have started when Russian teenager Rina Palenkova posted a selfie photo in November 2015 with the caption "Nya bye", the day before she took her own life.

Her death was discussed in a chat room hosted by a Russian social network, where teenagers shared scary stories - and this was closely followed by two further teenage girls taking their own lives, both of which had been part of similar online groups where posts about suicide had been made, along with numerous mentions of blue whales.

In May 2016 a Russian journalist wrote a piece claiming that there were online groups where 'players' would allegedly be set 50 tasks over 50 days and on the last day they were instructed to take their own life.

It was found that other teenagers that had died had painted pictures of blue whales, or posted photos of one on their social media accounts shortly beforehand.

The accuracy of this report has also been called into question - and whether the challenge is real or simply a myth remains a mystery.

Who can parents contact with concerns?

If people believe that any child is at risk of significant harm, they are urged to contact their school and, if necessary, the police by calling on 101 or 999.