Global social media challenge sparks terror: Blue Whale challenge

Whales carved into arms. Teenagers jumping off roofs. Over 100 suicides committed worldwide.

The Blue Whale Challenge is an online game created in Russia that encourages kids to commit suicide, and has claimed approx. 130 lives in Russia (the origin of the game), India, several countries in Europe and most recently, the United States.

The game consists of many challenges, given to the player by a curator, that are completed over the course of 50 days, culminating in a final challenge to commit suicide. Although there has  been no confirmation that the game directly causes suicide, there have been several factors linking the deaths to the game. Kids with carved whales in their arms, social media posts related to blue whales and relatives verifying the existence of the game, all indicate that the game has taken many lives.

According to CNN, the Colonel of Justice for the Investigation Committee Department of St. Petersburg, Anton Breydo, launched an investigation into Blue Whale, trying to work with a girl who survived a suicide attempt. She informed him that players are told that once they start playing, there is “no way back.” If they try to change their minds, they are threatened by the curator, who claims to have all their information and will come after their loved ones.

In a similar instance, a 15-year-old girl from Jodhpur, India claims that if she hadn’t attempted suicide, her parents would be murdered.

“The girl repeatedly asked the policemen to let her jump [into water] and requested them not to inform her family members,” said Lekhraj Sihag, Station House Officer of the police station that rescued her.

In fact, multiple girls have attempted suicide by jumping into the Kaylana Lake on the outskirts of Jodhpur, indicating that youth in this region are particularly susceptible to the game.

Alexander Naravy is a 22-year-old victim of the game who was rescued by the police after attempted suicide.

Naravy speaks out against youth even trying the game. “It is a virtual death trap. Though I wanted to get out of the game, I could not do so … You will go through an agonizing experience,” he warned.

All of the challenges have to do with self-harm and provoke feelings of loneliness and depression. They start with simple tasks, such as taking selfies in graveyards and waking up at odd times, and increasingly grow more intense.

“Everyday, I had to watch horror movies alone, as the idea was to make victims shun fear” Naravy continued.

These tasks slowly escalate as the game progresses, until finally the curator assigns a date for the player to die.

In Russia, almost 20 suicides have been officially linked to the game, but politicians and the media suggest that the number could be as high as the hundreds. In July, 22-year-old Philipp Budeikin was reported as the key mastermind behind the game, being linked to over 16 Blue Whale suicides throughout Russia. Investigators report that “Budeikin branded victims of the game as ‘biological waste’ and told police that they were ‘happy to die’ and he was ‘cleansing society,” according to the DailyMail.

In some regions, the issue has become so dangerous that schools are taking action against kids using social media. In India, for example, the West Bengal Education minister has instructed schools to ban cell phones entirely.

As of now, there have been no confirmed deaths or suicide attempts due to the Blue Whale Challenge in California.

When asked about the appeal of the Blue Whale Challenge, Dougherty Valley High School Health teacher, Ms. Agustin, talked about different teenage mentalities.  Some may enjoy being able to check things off a list, and this gives them an opportunity, while others may find a sense of belonging and accomplishment by completing challenges.

Agustin continued, discussing the administration of the game and the medium through which it is used: “It’s all about manipulation. The curators are looking for someone they can manipulate — it’s a predator-prey situation. People make things seem so legitimate through the Internet. I believe that it’s human nature to trust.”

Agustin, deeply concerned about this issue, encouraged students to be extremely careful online and absorb health information taught at school.

Agustin also discussed the impact of this game on different age groups. Teenagers are especially susceptible to this challenge due to social media usage, as well as an increase of risk-taking during these years. Adults aren’t as susceptible, because they minimize the number of risks they take. In addition, adults, for the most part, have already found their sense of belonging, unlike many teenagers, for whom this can be a struggle.

Dougherty Valley Mental Health Counselor Mr. Joe Ionara expressed his thoughts on the dangers of such a phenomenon.

“When we have created a pressure-cooker situation at Dougherty — parents, students, teachers, administrators … we’ve all sort of created an environment that creates a lot of pressure [with] I think a lot of undue anxiety, a lot of stress. And when you’re in that position, you do things you wouldn’t normally do, and say things that you wouldn’t normally say, and if people in this community are exposed to it at the right time, they can be very susceptible to manipulation. My fear is someone [might] get a hold of this game or convince others to do it,” he said.