Blue Whale goes berserk

This disturbing and dangerous online game, which ‘chooses’ its ‘pawns’, poses a big challenge to parents as well as government.

By Author   |   Published: 20th Aug 2017   12:04 am
Blue Whale Challenge

We have seen pre-teens jumping off roofs, hoping that their favourite superhero would rescue them. We’ve also seen occasional deaths as a result of pursuing that elusive perfect selfie. But what the world is witnessing now is way more disturbing than all these sporadic incidents – The ‘Blue Whale’ Challenge.

The so-called ‘game’ is no game by any stretch of imagination but a sinister online challenge that traps the young. It lures teens into accepting the challenge following which an administrator gets in touch with the player asking her/him if s/he is sure of continuing. If at any stage, the player talks about leaving the game midway, s/he is threatened by the administrator, who claims to have all the information of the players. And the player then has no option but to play on till the ‘end’.

The deadly game uses different names such as ‘A Silent House,’ ‘A Sea Of Whales’ and ‘Wake Me Up At 4:20am’ and eggs on the players to complete the daunting and dangerous tasks ranging from cutting oneself with razors, watching horror clips all day and to top it all, committing suicide in order to ‘win’ the game.

If the above-mentioned facts about the game already send chills down your spine, the worst is yet to come!

Dare-based Game

You don’t choose the game, it chooses you!

The eerie 50-day dare-based game, which throws challenges at vulnerable teens, catches them primarily from ‘suicide’ and ‘death’ groups on various social media platforms. No links to the game are openly found anywhere on the internet, nor are they available on the Play Store or App Store. According to experts, the game is a ‘Social Media Phenomenon,’ which enters the social media networks from secret and closed groups.

Udbhav Tiwari from the Centre of Internet and Society, New Delhi, says, “The Blue Whale Challenge is not a game that can be downloaded on a phone or a website and, therefore, be banned.”

Strange but true, the administrators or curators of the game choose their prey from social media websites when they put up statuses or photographs of themselves with hash tags ‘#curatorfindme’, ‘#bluewhalechallenge’ and ‘#Imawhale’ to name a few. This phenomenon, when searched for, on various social networking sites shows several teens calling themselves Whales – as the players are called – showing glimpses of how alarming the situation is.

Creator and Origin

Reported to have started in Russia, the game was created by Philipp Budeikin, who is now behind bars. Though it started in 2013 under the name F-57, it wasn’t until 2015 that it became known to the public through Russia’s social networking site VKontakte (VK).

The name ‘blue whale’ however, seems to have come from the phenomenon of the animal intentionally stranding on beaches.

Philipp (21) confessed to inciting at least 16 schoolgirls to kill themselves by taking part in his social media craze, during his arrest and said, “There are people, and there are biodegradable waste and I was cleaning our society from such people.”

“Sometimes, I start to think that I am doing wrong, but inside there is a feeling that I was doing the right thing,” Philipp told Saint-Petersburg.ru, a Russian website, and added that he has a bipolar personality disorder and grew up in an abusive household.

Blue Whale
Illustration by Chaitanya Krishna

According to Russian officials, Philipp clearly knew what he had to do to get the result he wanted. The officials state that Philipp and his aides at first lured children into VK groups by using scary videos and then had to identify those who would be the most affected by psychological manipulation.

They also say that Philipp and his team over a period of time understood that of the 10,000 people watching their videos only around 10 would be ‘their’ audience.

Impact

The horrifyingly dangerous game has been linked to at least 130 teen deaths across Russia and other central Asian countries like Kazakhstan. The popularity gradually spread to the West, before it finally started showing signs of its arrival in India.

While the Western countries have issued advisories to parents and schools in order to put a check to the growing menace, India, for now, seems to be baffled, much like its Western counterparts in the initial stages.

The incident that triggered panic in India was the suicide of a 14-year-old in Mumbai. Since then, more teenagers are reported to have been playing this game, though there is no confirmation from the police yet.

A 14-year-old teen was stopped from jumping off a building in Indore by his friends, a Class 10 student from West Midnapore in Bengal who allegedly committed suicide is also suspected to be a casualty of this lethal game.

However, the most disturbing of all these incidents is that of a 16-year-old’s suicide in Thiruvananthapuram on July 26. The teenager’s mother, in an interview, said that her son, months before his death did, in fact, talk to her about the game.

After reading the reports on the game, the mother confirmed her doubts that the reason behind her son’s suicide was indeed this game. She also went on to say that her son started to visit cemeteries alone, watch horror movies till 5 am and talk about death every now and then, making it more apparent.

Government’s Reaction

While the Maharashtra government has called the phenomenon ‘worrisome’ and discussed it in the Assembly, Kerala has urged the Centre to impose a ban on the challenge.

On the other hand, Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has warned of action against social networking platforms if they ‘fail to remove links’ to the Blue Whale Challenge.

“I appeal all the platforms to abide by the direction which the IT Ministry has given. It is important and the violation will be viewed very seriously,” Prasad said.

However, this diktat may have little impact. Instead of threatening the social networking platforms, if the government works hand-in-hand with the websites to check this growing menace, the results would be better.

IT industry body Nasscom and Data Security Council of India (DSCI) has suggested setting up of a hotline service or web portal. “We (Nasscom – DSCI) have also reached out to the Ministry of Women & Child Development to issue alerts to parents, schools and colleges, and recommended that it activate a hotline or web portal to receive tip-offs to identify sources of the game,” Nasscom stated.

Social Media Reacts

Social networking giants like Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr have started helplines for people searching for #BlueWhaleChallenge on their platforms.

As it is extremely difficult to bar users from using these dangerous hash tags, the social networking sites have come up with the idea of providing assistance to those who search for these words. For instance, the first search result Facebook puts out when one searches for #BlueWhaleChallenge, is that of professional help.

Expert Advice

Mental health experts blame it on deteriorating human-human interaction and feel that being more vigilant is one of the keys to curbing such a nuisance.

Hyderabad-based Consultant, Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist Dr Purnima Nagaraja stresses the role of parents in behavioural changes of teens. “With minimal or no communication between parents and children, with no fun elements such as sports or hobbies in their lives, adolescents turn to the lonely and gory virtual world, which is like a hunting ground for psychopaths like the curator of the Blue Whale Challenge,” she points out.

“Parents should come out of the thought that providing education to their children is everything. They should realise the importance of interaction and spend a good hour or two with their children, away from technology. This will help a great deal in the child feeling more wanted and less lonely,” she adds.

Depression is fast becoming the most alarming cause of death and, according to WHO, by 2020 it will be the top cause of death overtaking heart diseases. Seeking medical help for mental disturbances, as experts have time and again emphasised, will help us take control over such dangerous phenomena.

So, if the ‘Whale’ finds you, do not stigmatise, open up, seek help and stay safe! And parents, spend more time with your children.