BEACHING “THE BLUE WHALE CHALLENGE” – A game with a bizarre reward “death”

We have all come across the compliance tactic that involves getting a person to agree to a large request by first setting them up and then having that person agree to a modest request. The blue whale game works on a similar principle where the participants are assigned simple tasks in the beginning and then level of task difficulty elevates and the last straw is when they are asked to end their lives.

The blue whale challenge is a suicide game wherein a group of administrators or a certain curator gives a participant a task to complete, everyday, for a period of 50 days. These daily tasks start off easy- listening to certain genres of music, waking up at odd hours, watching a horror movie, among others, and then escalates to carving out shapes on one’s skin, self-mutilation and eventually suicide. Participants are expected to share photos of the challenges/tasks completed by them. Those who want to give up or back out are threatened, saying that the administrator possesses all their information and would bring harm to them or their loved ones.

It all started with the existence of “death groups” on Russia’s most popular social media network, VKontakte (also known as VK), that was inciting young teens into committing suicide. According to reports, there were about 130 reported adolescent suicides in Russia between November 2015 and April 2016 and a majority of these children who took their life were part of the same social media groups on the internet — death groups.

The Blue Whale challenge has followed to other countries, reporting the heart-breaking deaths of youngsters in the U.K, U.S.A, some countries in Europe, South Korea and now even in India. The last case reported in India was dated on August 31st, 2017; amounting for a death toll of 7.
Most adults of sound mind with a supportive network at home and at school, are unlikely to stumble upon this “game” or be brainwashed by it. It is crucial to remember that adolescents falling prey to the game already are vulnerable on an emotional and psychological level. They are either predisposed to depression, anxiety, suicidal intent and have low self-esteem and poor self-image. The tactic of the game is that it thrives on vulnerability to self harming behaviour and suicidal thoughts among emotionally or socially marginalised adolescents and teenagers. If we look at the content of the tasks, it has negative affect-suicide ideation, eliciting anxiety, creating fear, inducing maladaptive thoughts etc. According to experts, teenagers are more vulnerable because the virtual world allows them to act freely without the restrictions that exist in the real world. Teenagers generally take these risks because they are vulnerable and prone to seeking validation. Also, it makes them feel like they are a part of something that is bigger than them. The victims might begin the game out of curiosity, but find themselves being psychologically manipulated into continuing with the tasks till they end their lives.

What can be done to prevent people falling into the heinous trap?
Monitor the actions and behaviour of people who are depressed, rebels, introverts, aloof, bullied etc. Any change in their pattern of sleeping, eating, activities should be closely watched.

Addressing the root causes of vulnerability of teenagers and talking to them about such online groups and what they contain is a better defence, rather than getting caught in the panic and banning or restricting their time spent online.

Parents and friends should create an atmosphere of conversation and not interrogation for the potential victims. They must acknowledge the worry and not dismiss them, as this will prevent them from having further conversations with you.

Psycho-education of parents, victims of depression, personality disorders, conduct disorders, socially aloof people, victims of bully etc should be a must. Suicide help-lines should be contacted in case any irregular activity coming to notice. Use social network as a forum to educate and make people aware of a phenomena like this- use of hash tags, graphics, posters, articles etc. Directing people to pages of suicide help lines when they search for these games online.

All in all, curb those wanting to climb the 50 step ladder to suicide.
Be safe. Be smart. End the blue.

Shreya Lahoty