Parents are being warned about a viral game on Facebook where children deliberately go missing for 48 hours in a competition to see who can get the most attention.
Children as young as 14 are reported to be playing the sick game, known as the "48-hour challenge". In the game, children and teenagers run away from home for as long as possible and see how many times their disappearance is reported on social media.
In a cruel twist, desperate parents who use social media to urge friends and family to share the news of their children's disappearance as widely as possible end up improving the score.
Some children have 'gone missing' either in pairs or groups but in some cases they are alone, sparking deeper fears for their safety. The game appears to take inspiration from a similar viral event in France in 2013 where teenagers were going missing for 72 hours.
One mother from Derry left shocked when her child went missing playing the game told BelfastLive: "This is a competition and it's sick. The anxiety it left our family in is unspeakable."
She said her child and others were found 55 hours after disappearing miles away from home. "I was terrified they were dead or would be raped, trafficked or killed," she said.
"But these kids just think it's funny. There was not even a moment of remorse when my child was taken into police custody and when the police brought my child home, I could see posts of selfies from the police car."
She added: "We got lucky this time. Another teenager may not be so lucky and I dread to think of the consequences that could bring about."
The latest viral craze follows the infamous "Blue Whale game" on social media, which is linked with over 100 deaths of children in Russia. The clandestine online game is run by anonymous 'Masters' that encourage participants to compete in a disturbing series of challenges over the course of 50 days that increase in the level of difficulty.
These challenges allegedly begin as innocuous requests, such as watching horror films or waking up at a particular time of night. As the 'game' progresses, participants are then subjected to increasingly harmful demands – most notably carving the outline of a blue whale on their own skin.
To 'win' the game, the players are reportedly ordered to commit suicide. Those unwilling to follow the final order are said to be threatened that their families will be killed.