Blue Whale (game)

Last updated on 18 October 2017

The Blue Whale Game (Russian: Синий кит, translit. Siniy kit), also known as "Blue Whale Challenge", is a 21st-century social network phenomenon that is claimed to exist in several countries, beginning in 2016. The game reportedly consists of a series of tasks assigned to players by administrators over a 50-day period, with the final challenge requiring the player to commit suicide.[1][2]

"Blue Whale" came to prominence in May 2016 through an article in Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, that linked many unrelated child suicides to membership of group "F57" on the Russian-based VKontakte social network. A wave of moral panic swept Russia.[3] However the piece was later criticised for attempting to make a causal link where none existed, and none of the suicides was found to be as a result of the group activities.[3][4][5]

Structure

While many experts suggest "Blue Whale" was originally a sensationalised hoax,[6][7][8] they believe that it is likely that the phenomenon has led to instances of imitative self-harming and copycat groups, leaving vulnerable children at risk of cyberbullying and online shaming.[8] Blue Whale is described as being based on the relationship between participants (or challengers) and administrators.[9][10] The administrators prescribe a series of duties that players must complete, usually one per day, some of which involve self-mutilation.[11] As of late 2017, participation in Blue Whale seems to be receding;[12] however, internet safety organisations across the world have reacted by giving general advice to parents and educators on suicide prevention, mental health awareness, and online safety in advance of the next incarnation of cyberbullying meme.[13][12][5]

Arrests

In 2016, Philipp Budeikin, a 21-year-old former psychology student who was expelled from his university, claimed that he invented the game in 2013. He said his intention was to cleanse society by pushing persons to suicide whom he deemed as having no value.[14][15] Although originally claiming innocence and stating he was "just having fun", Budeikin was arrested and held in Kresty Prison, St Petersburg and in May 2016 pled guilty to "inciting at least 16 teenage girls to commit suicide."[14] He was later convicted on two counts of inciting suicide of a minor.[16]

In June 2017, postman Ilya Sidorov was arrested in Moscow, also accused of setting up a "Blue Whale" group to encourage children to self-harm and ultimately commit suicide. He claimed to have persuaded 32 children to join his group and follow commands.[17]

Reported cases

Argentina

In San Juan Province, Argentina, a 14-year-old boy was admitted to intensive care after claiming on social media he was participating in Blue Whale.[18]

Bangladesh

Many news reports have published on Bangladeshi media about attempted suicide related with the game.[19][20] A teenage girl committed suicide allegedly from the addiction of the game in October, 2017.[21] A Chittagong University student was arrested by the Bangladeshi police for playing the game.[22]

Brazil

Several news reports have appeared on Brazilian media linking cases of child self-harm and suicide with Blue Whale. Police have several ongoing investigations, although as yet none has been officially confirmed.[23][24][25] Altogether, eight Brazilian states had cases of suicide and self-mutilation suspected to be connected with the game.[26]

Bulgaria

The first news about Blue Whale appeared in Bulgaria in mid-February 2017. The Safer Internet Centre, established under the Safer Internet plus Programme of the European Commission, responded quickly. "(T)his sensationalistic story was inflated by a number of our clickbait websites creating a wave of panic among parents", Centre Coordinator Georgi Apostolov reported.

"We decided not to initiate contact directly with the media since this would attract additional interest and could mislead the public into believing the story to be somehow true. As the hype was magnified by thousands sharing the story on the social networks, we just published a warning on our website and spread the link in comments under all shared in Facebook articles and posts. Then the mainstream media themselves started asking us for interviews and quoting our conclusions that it evidently was a hoax."[27]

Two discussion groups about suicide opened on Facebook, but were quickly reported and deleted. The diffusion of the viral news was stopped within two weeks. Later, when a sensationalist piece in the Romanian newspaper Gandul resulted in five more articles being published in Bulgaria that reported the challenge as real, media again circulated SIC's positions, and the hoax was stopped immediately.

Chile

Media in Chile have reported three cases of children suspected of involvement with 'Blue Whale'. In Antofagasta, a mother reported to the police that her 12-year-old daughter had 15 cuts on her arm that formed the design of a whale. After being interviewed by police officers, the girl confessed that she followed game administrator's instructions while playing this game.[28] A 13-year-old girl in Padre Las Casas claimed to have played the game along with three other friends. The girl reached the tenth stage, also making cuts in her arms.[29] An 11-year-old boy in Temuco accepted an invitation to join the game on Facebook in 2017 from an unidentified woman, but declined to participate after being contacted by a profile named "Ballena Azul".[30]

China

A suicide group was founded by a 10-year-old girl in Ningbo, Zhejiang; who posted several photos of her self-mutilation related to the Blue Whale.[31] Since then authorities began to monitor mentions of the game on forums and live broadcasts.[32]

India

Throughout 2017 media in India has reported several cases of child suicide, self harm and attempted suicide alleged to be a result of Blue Whale,[33][34][35][36] although no case has been officially confirmed.[6] In August 2017, the Government of India's Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology requested that several internet companies (including Google, Facebook, and Yahoo) remove all links which direct users to the game.[7] Some commentators accused the government of creating a moral panic. Indian internet watchdog the Centre for Internet and Society has accused the coverage of effectively spreading and advertising a ‘game’ for which there is little evidence. [7] In India suicide was the second most common form of death of children, according to a 2012 report.[6]

Italy

In Italy, press coverage of 'Blue Whale' first appeared on 3 June 2016, in the newspaper La Stampa, which described the challenge as "a bad joke".[37]

The debunking site BUTAC reported the total lack of evidence to affirm the game's existence. On 14 May 2017, a TV report by Le Iene about 'Blue Whale' on the national channel Italia 1[38] linked the challenge to an unconnected suicide in Livorno, Italy. The report showed several suicide scenes, mostly from videos on LiveLeak depicting adults unrelated to the challenge. It incorrectly described the footage as evidence of teenagers playing the game. The report interviewed a schoolmate of the Livorno teenager, two mothers of Russian girls who supposedly took part in the game, and the founder of the Russian Center for the safety of children from internet crimes. Following the report, coverage of the challenge in the Italian media increased, with many outlets describing it as real. There was a sharp rise in Google searches for the challenge, and some panic.

On 15 and 16 May, newspapers announced the arrest of Budeikin, without saying that it happened months before. His unconfirmed statements about his supposed victims being "genetical rubbish" were reported as real. Paolo Attivissimo, a journalist and debunker of hoaxes, described the game as "a death myth dangerously exaggerated by sensationalist journalism". Police received calls from terrified parents and teachers, and there were reports of teenagers taking part in the challenge. These included several cases of self-mutilation and attempted suicide. Most reports were considered to be false or exaggerated. Alleged participants were reported from all over Italy: Ravenna,[39] Brescia[40] and Siracusa.[41]

On May 22, 2017 the Polizia Postale declared that they had received 40 alarms. On the 24th this number was increased to 70. On its website the Polizia Postale defines Blue Whale as "a practice that seems to possibly come from Russia" and offers advice to parents and teenagers.[42] Several alleged cases have since been described by newspapers.[43]

Kenya

In Nairobi County a student in Kiambu County, had played the Blue Whale challenge. He committed suicide on 3 May at the hotel owned by his grandfather in the city centre.[44]

Pakistan

On September 13, 2017, Pakistan reported its first two victims from the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK).[45]

Poland

Three pupils of a primary school in Pyrzyce self harmed, allegedly under the influence of the 'Blue Whale' challenge.[46][47]

Portugal

An 18-year-old girl was admitted to hospital with mutilations on her body in Albufeira after she threw herself from an overpass to the railway line. Police, parents and friends said that the girl had been motivated to do so by a person on the Internet named as "Blue Whale".[48] In an interview with RTP, she said that she felt alone, and lacking affection.[49]

Russia

In March 2017, authorities in Russia were investigating approximately 130 separate cases of suicide related to the phenomenon. In February a 15-year-old and 16-year-old threw themselves off the top of a 14-story building in Irkutsk, Siberia after completing 50 tasks sent to them. Before they killed themselves together, they left messages on their pages on social networks.[50][51] Also in February, a 15-year-old was in critical condition after throwing herself out of an apartment and falling on snow-covered ground in the town of Krasnoyarsk, also in Siberia.[52]

On 11 May 2017, Russian media reported that Philipp Budeikin "plead guilty to inciting teenagers to suicide," having described his victims as "biological waste" and claiming he was "cleansing society." He was held at Kresty Prison in St. Petersburg with charges of "inciting at least 16 teenage girls to kill themselves."[15]

On 26 May 2017, Russian Duma (parliament) passed a bill introducing criminal responsibility for creating pro-suicide groups on social media, in the wake of 130 teen deaths linked to the Blue Whale suicide challenge.[53] On 7 June 2017, President Putin signed a law imposing criminal penalties for inducing minors to suicide.[54] The law imposes a maximum punishment of six years in prison.

Saudi Arabia

On 5 June 2017, a 13-year-old boy committed suicide in his room, where his body was discovered by his mother. The boy used his PlayStation wires to commit suicide. His death has been linked to Blue Whale.[55]

Serbia

A 13-year-old boy in Velika Plana injured his hand, telling his parents that he had done so because of Blue Whale. The parents reported the case to the police.[56]

Spain

In Spain, a teenager was admitted to a psychiatric unit of a Barcelona hospital after her family said she started playing Blue Whale.[57]

Turkey

In Turkey, a family filed a criminal complaint after their son's suicide, and demanded further investigation regarding the incident. The family told the officials that after their son started playing "the game", his behavior changed rapidly.[58]

United States

In the city of San Antonio, Texas, the body of a 15-year-old was found on 8 July 2017. A cellphone had broadcast the teen's suicide, which is believed to be related to the game.[59]

It is also alleged that the game was tied to a teen girl's death in Atlanta, Georgia.[60]

The sheriff of LeFlore County, Oklahoma, said evidence showed an 11-year-old boy committed suicide in August 2017 while participating in the game.[61]

Uruguay

In the city of Rivera, 450 kilometers from Montevideo, a 13-year-old girl was hospitalized after employees of the school she attended reported injuries to her left arm.[62][63] Adolescents victimized by the Blue Whale game are being investigated in six departments: Montevideo, Canelones, Colonia, Río Negro, Salto and Rivera.[64][65]

Reactions

In March 2017, Romanian Minister of Internal Affairs Carmen Dan expressed her deep concerns about the phenomenon.[66] Mayor of Bucharest Gabriela Firea described the game as "extremely dangerous".[67]

In Brazil, in response to the game, a designer and a publicity agent from São Paulo created a movement called Baleia Rosa (Pink Whale),[68] which became viral. It relied on the collaboration of hundreds of volunteers. The movement is based on positive tasks that value life and combat depression.[69] Also in Brazil, Sandro Sanfelice created the movement Capivara Amarela (Yellow Capybara), which proposes to "combat the Blue Whale game" and guide people seeking some kind of help. Participants are separated between challengers, who are the people who seek help, and the healers, who are kind of godfathers of these people.[70] An Adventist school in southern Paraná, in partnership with other education networks, also sought to reverse the situation by proposing another charity game, the "Jonas Challenge" (referring to the biblical character Jonah, who was vomited up by a large fish three days after being swallowed by it).[71] Other games created in Brazil in response to the Blue Whale were the Baleia Verde (Green Whale) and the Preguiça Azul (Blue Sloth).

Author Glória Perez stated on 21 April 2017 that she plans to include the Blue Whale game in her new telenovela, A Força do Querer.[72] The media also stressed that the phenomenon coincided with the controversy surrounding the Netflix television series 13 Reasons Why, which addresses the issue of teen suicide.[73][74]

In Belo Horizonte and Recife metropolitan area in Brazil, many schools promoted lectures to talk about the Blue Whale game.[13] The Brazilian police, who are specialized in High Technology Crime Repression (Dercat) in Piauí is preparing a digital primer to warn young people about the dangers of the game.[75]

In the United States, one site, also called the "Blue Whale Challenge", does not identify as an effort to combat the game, but offers fifty days of challenges that promote mental health and well-being.[76][77]

In May 2017, Tencent, China's largest Internet service portal, closed 12 suspicious Blue Whale-related network groups on its social networking platform QQ. It said that the number of this kind of groups is on the rise.[78] The search results of related keywords was also blocked in QQ.

In August 2017, the Government of India's Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology made a formal request to several internet companies (including Google, Facebook, and Yahoo) to remove all links directing users to the game.[7]

In October 2017, Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan stated that the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission has been directed to investigate the Blue Whale game after reports of suicide around the country.[79][80] BTRC released a notice urging people to call a specific number if any web link or any information related to the Blue Whale game were to be found.[81][82] Later that month, the Bangladeshi High Court ordered a 6-month halt on special nighttime internet packages provided by various mobile operators across the country in order to curb suicide resulting from the game.[83]

See also

References

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