The Blue Whale Challenge

The killer game-The Blue Whale ChallengeWhat is the Blue Whale Suicide Game?

Just like any other online games, “The Blue Whale Game” has taken over the internet like a storm. The name sounds like a cyber nightmare that has already claimed the lives of several teens around the world.  The game reportedly started in Russia in 2013 with ‘F57 ‘, one of the names of the so-called “death group” of VKontakte — Russia’s largest social network — and allegedly caused its first suicide in 2015. Philipp Budeikin, a former psychology student who was expelled from the university, claimed to have invented the game with a purpose of “cleanse society” by pushing to suicide those he deemed as having no value.

Why the name – Blue Whale?

The name “Blue Whale” supposedly has been taken from the fact that the Whales come to the sea shore at times’ without any apparent reason and die off-water; like committing suicide. Beached whales die due to dehydration, collapsing under their own weight or drowning when high tide covers their blowhole. It is also believed that the name of the challenge is taken from a song called “Burn” by Russian rock band Lumen. The lyrics speak of a “huge blue whale” that “can’t break through the net.”

How did it become popular?

This is far more than a ‘dare game’ which is spreading like a virus in the cyber world, claiming several lives. Teen deaths around the world have been linked to this game, though not many have been confirmed. According to a Russian media, it is said that this social media game has been responsible for the suicide deaths of about 130 young people in Russia from November 2015 to April 2016.  The very first incident took place in 2015, when a girl named Rina Palenkova shared a selfie just before stepping in front of a train.

In Russia in 2016, Blue Whale came into broader use among teenagers after a journalist brought attention to it through an article that linked many unrelated suicide victims to this game, creating a wave of moral panic in Russia. Later, Budeikin was arrested with charges of inciting at least 16 teenagers to kill themselves He was pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison leading to Russian suicide prevention legislation and renewed world-wide concern over the Blue Whale phenomenon.

Rule of Thumb

The game’s administrators or curator find players through “death groups” or “suicide groups” set up on VK.com (VKontakte). Once a player signs up to play the game, they are given a master who controls them and they agree to follow instructions from their master over the course of 50 days. These can be anything from simple tasks like listening to a certain song, watching horror movies and waking up at odd hours to much more extreme requests like slicing the outline of a whale in their skin.

The first challenge usually comes at 4:20 am. Every time you accomplish a task, you must provide photographic or video proof of completion to the admin. By posting on social networks using certain hashtags or joining to certain groups, teens – usually between the ages of 10 and 14 – get spotted by ‘curators’ as potential players, set up to compete for these series of tasks leading up to the ultimate one, suicide.

Those who get cold feet and want to leave the game receive threats, often that their family members will be killed. Yes, you read that right. It’s a game that you can only win if you end your life. And in a culture where suicide is the third-leading cause of death among teens, we can’t afford to turn a blind eye to this madness.

Active Prevention Measures

Teenagers are at the most vulnerable stage as at this stage hormones take over their intelligence. They want to do something thrilling and become popular through social media channels seems to be one of the easiest options to indulge in this kind of popularity stunts. Hence it is important that parents teach their children about safe online behavior. Users, especially teens should exercise more caution before sharing any personal information such as their address or pictures on their profile because this gives cyber criminals a chance to bully and threaten them. Also, users should be more careful before joining vague groups, as their online footsteps can be tracked.

A study by Centers for Disease Control in the US, published in December 2016, suggests that suicide is contagious and people in the age group of 15 to 19 are up to four times more likely to be affected by the suicide contagion than people in other age groups. The study attributes the suicides partly to social media but points out that underlying mental health issues have a major role.

The government will have to do more than just order companies like Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Microsoft to take down links of Blue Whale game. It is not another game like ‘Pokémon Go’ that you can search and download and start playing.

Charity begins at home. As a parent there are several things that can be done. As teenagers retreat into their rooms it’s important to keep the lines of communication open:

  • Take the time and effort to foster your relationship and communication skills by talking with your kids as much as you can. Talk with them and then hear what they have to say. Listening is just as important as talking. Talk to listen to your child and not impose authority. Hearing and respecting feelings, allowing choice, yet setting fair and clear limits on unacceptable behavior is the healthy balance that we should all strive for.
  • Limit the time that is spent on mobile phones, tablets or laptops and explain why this is important, for instance, banning phones from the bedroom especially at the time of sleep. So they don’t get to wake and check messages in the middle of the night which is extremely bad for their health.
  • Check their social media accounts for any posts related to ‘Blue Whale’ or content that may be connected to depression, violence or self harm. Let your children know that you’re aware of these suicide-game trend and you are concerned.
  • Make it clear to them that the age restriction of 13+ to 17+ for using internet (major social media channels) has been made based on multiple reasons. Check what pages they like and follow on social media networks like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. This can give a strong indication of their current state of mental health. Also notice whether they are using apps like KiK, Yellow or any others that allow them to connect to a large number of strangers.
  • Consider using security software with parental controls. This allows you to block malicious content, put search filters in place, limit your kids’ time online, monitor their activity and even block certain applications. It helps keep them safe from cyberbullying and stops them being exposed to inappropriate content.
  • Some software also includes social media protection. This is a great tool for discretely monitoring and protecting youngsters. You can set alerts for inappropriate messages by flagging up key words in areas such as profanities, violence, abuse, drugs and drinking. When inappropriate content is discovered you receive alerts. It also monitors pictures and social media posts for keywords and unsafe website links.

Conclusion

The killer game is now spreading to the rest of the globe at an alarming rate, leading to police forces warning teenagers to be cautious. Life is too precious and we have already lost too many young souls to this dumb game. Like any other drugs such as heroin or cocaine, this game has got its own lethal charm that attracts misguided and mentally disturbed youth towards it, and brain-wash them to succumb to its final death call. The list of such games that encourage self-harm is quite long which enlists some famed games like the choking game, the cinnamon challenge, ice and salt challenge, fire challenge went quite viral, particularly among young teenagers. Society needs to take corrective steps to guard our youth against these kinds of cyber threats and provide mental health by diverting youth energy towards creative activities. Blue whale or no blue whale, a life-saving talk can bless someone with a new life prevailing all the darkness around.