The Blue Whale Challenge: a Hoax or Real Threat?
It is an indisputable fact nowadays that the Internet is not always safe to surf. Besides online communication, information and media that we became used to finding on the Web, it is also home to many hidden perils that a grown-up and – what’s even more likely – a child may come across. Unfortunately, the list of such potential online threats becomes longer almost every day, and a virtual self-harm “game,” otherwise known as the Blue Whale teen suicide challenge is something that was added to it recently.
The information about the Blue Whale challenge hit the media just a couple weeks ago as a reaction to two teen suicides committed in the US in May and July 2017. Reportedly, both deaths were the result of the teens participating in the Blue Whale suicide “game.”
Here are few statistics facts that speak for the significance of the teen suicide problem in the US:
- In 2016, the suicide rate in the US counted as many as 13 people in 100,000. 11.6% of suicides overall were committed by teenagers.
- Suicide is considered to be the second leading reason for the youngsters’ death aged 10-24.
- Every day in the US happen as many as 5,240 attempts by teens aged 12-18. 4 out of 5 teens who attempted suicide have been showing apparent warning signs.
What Is the Blue Whale Challenge?
The name of the challenge refers to blue whales, who usually live singly. According to some scientific resources, they are the only animals capable of committing suicide by casting themselves on a shore.
The Blue Whale game consists of 50 “tasks” that a child who has accepted the challenge has to complete within 50 days, one task each day. A list of tasks includes various forms of self-harm that may include:
- Cutting own arms or legs;
- Scratching words “Blue Whale” or an image of a whale on the skin and leaving other various marks on the own body;
- Standing on the edge of a roof;
- Watching a lot of horror movies and videos;
- Listening to particular kind of music (supposedly, with depressive lyrics);
- Skyping with or meeting other “players” or curators of the game in person.
Allegedly, the final 50th “task” a child gets is taking their life away by jumping off a building or in another way while broadcasting the suicide online through the mobile devices.
Kids can get into the challenge through so-called “groups of death” on the social networks, which are created and supervised by so-called curators. They may lure teens into these groups, find out their fears and problems at home or in school, and manipulate their consciousness to set up on trying the game. Many teens may also want to try out the game themselves, by posting hashtags like #bluewhale, #imingame, #waitingforinstructions on their online profiles. A curator is supposed to contact them and send the game tasks.
Secrecy and notorious popularity of the challenge may hot up children’s interest to it. What kids usually don’t know, is that once started they may find it hard or impossible to leave the game. Curators blackmail “players” by saying that, for example, someone will come and hurt or kill their family. At the very start they usually require from a novice to confirm their exact location, and later may demand to send intimate photos. All this is done to have more leverages on a child and to be able to manipulate him or her unresisted. In such conditions, many teens feel they have to keep playing and eventually commit suicide, to “save their dear ones.”
The “game” originally appeared in Russia in late 2015. It was initiated by a Philip Budeikin (widely known online under the nickname Lis – Fox in Russian), aged 21, a psychology major. He became the first curator/supervisor, enticing kids into the deadly challenge. Last month Budeikin was sentenced to 3 years and 4 months in prison.
But before that many more curators and their “death groups” appeared in the most popular Russian social network VK.com. Then it spread to Instagram and other networks. In 2016, the game spread to Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, and Estonia. By 2017 it also reached some countries of the EU, South America, Africa, and Asia. In May and early July 2017, two fatal cases were registered in the US, in Georgia and Texas. Victims were a girl aged 16 and a boy aged 15. Families claim that they have found evidence of both children participating in the Blue Whale challenge in their personal belongings and on the online profiles. The police did not clearly object these claims.
A Hoax or a Real Danger?
As usual, there is an alternative point of view on the issue. It insists that the whole Blue Whale thing is a hoax. Russian state authorities were the first to deny the existence of the Blue Whale challenge and stopped local media from reporting on the subject. But an increased level of teen suicide in Russia (officially 504 registered cases in 2015 and 720 in 2016 compared to 400 in 2014) speak otherwise. Plus, independent media kept informing society about the problem claiming it is really serious. The Blue Whale information for kids and parents was also given in schools by volunteering organizations, to provide help and stop more teens from trying it.
For those parents who prefer to better be safe than sorry, here are the warning signs that may indicate of your child playing the Blue Whale game:
- Scars or other marks on body, images of a whale or words “blue whale” scratched on skin or paper; other forms of self-harm;
- Depression, changes in daily routine, sleep and diet, anxiety, secrecy; withdrawal from friends and usual activities; isolating self from family and peers;
- Posts on social networks concerning suicide and loneliness; any images or posts related to the Blue Whale challenge itself; related records in child’s diary, drawn/painted images in personal things;
- A kid watches a lot of horror movies and videos;
- A child asks to or goes on the roofs of the buildings or bridges.
If you have noticed any of these signs in your child and found out they do play the Blue Whale game, you should:
- Start an open conversation; show them your support and care; try to find out what was the reason that made them try out this challenge.
- Keep an eye on all of your child’s actions and contacts; block their internet profiles. Take away their cell phone if needed and stay with your kid at all times.
- Address a trained psychologist to provide your child with professional help.
Here are several tips that should help you prevent children from playing the Blue Whale game:
- Pay more attention to the psychological state of your child.
- Check skin and limbs of your kid to reveal any cuts or other marks, especially those that depict or remind whale. In case you find any ask your child about their origin.
- Check online profiles, contacts, and chats of your child, browser history and media files stored on the kid’s gadgets (a parental monitoring app can be used for that purpose).
- Learn about the circle of contacts of your child; find out if they have any friends interested in or playing the Blue Whale game.
- Occupy your kid’s leisure time with trips, new exciting hobbies, sports and out-of-school activities.
The Blue Whale suicide challenge might be a serious threat. Pro-active and caring parents should make their utmost effort to protect their children against it.