Blue Whale threat: Real or imaginary?



With many questions regarding Blue Whale leading to suicide by children still remaining unsolved and unresolved, the big question arises if this threat is real or imaginary? Is it mere mass hysteria?

Is it sensationalism spread by cyber world? Or it is real threat that is tainting the young minds and leading them to commit suicides? There are more questions as if Blue Whale is an app or a website? Where are the challenges coming from? Who is hosting the service or app? What are the end points? Who is the creator? Is there any forensic evidence from devices acquired from suspected victims of the game? Is there any communication channel that can be intercepted?

On August 11, the Government of India directed Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Microsoft and Yahoo to immediately remove the links to the online game, which has led to alleged suicide of children in India and other countries. The Government has made it clear that it will take action against social media platforms and their operators, if they fail to remove links to Blue Whale Challenge, which has allegedly led children to commit suicide in the country. The directions have come from none else than the Law and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

“People are committing suicide due to Blue Whale game. Clear instructions have been issued to all the technology platforms that they must delink this game immediately because under the Indian IT ecosystem, no initiative shall be permitted which provokes young boys to commit suicide. This is plainly unacceptable,” Prasad said. “I appeal to 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,” the Minister observed.

What is Blue Whale Challenge?

‘Blue Whale Challenge’ is an online game that is believed to have originated in Russia, where several teenagers have killed themselves over it. The game starts by asking participants to draw a blue whale on a piece of paper, and later onto their own flesh. The game advances innocuous challenges at first, such as waking up at unusual hours, or watching horror movies alone. However, the challenges get progressively dangerous. The administrator usually set the tasks over 50 days. The last task involves suicide. Although Russia has the highest victims, ‘The Blue Whale Challenge’ has also believed to have claimed lives in the UK, India and the US. The name comes from the phenomenon of beached whales, a process by which the mammals strand themselves on a beach.

Creator of Blue Whale

Blue Whale Challenge gives certain tasks to its players for a period of 50-days and the final task leads to suicide. The player is also asked to share photos after finishing every task. The Blue Whale challenge is an alleged ‘internet/social media game’ wherein the participants are given a series of tasks to complete over a period of time. The alleged final task is suicide. The game which is seemingly prevalent in many parts of the world is said to have originated from Russia. The creator of the game, Philipp Budeikin, was sentenced to three years of jail by a court in Russia for having incited at least 16 schoolgirls to kill themselves. He is reported to have told investigators when he was arrested that he was “cleansing society”.

Tasks assigned

The game asks its participants to perform 50 tasks, starting from mundane ones and culminating in taking one’s life. The participants are told to record all their tasks, which include waking up at odd hours, inflicting harm on one’s body, listening to psychedelic rock and so on. There is still no clarity as to how participants ‘play this game’. While some say it might be an app, there are rumours that it can be done via social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram etc. The game also allegedly involves carving out shapes on one’s skin and other forms of self-mutilation.

It is important to note that the presence of this ‘game’ has not been verified. However, the Moscow police recently arrested a young man who might be the ‘mastermind’ behind the game. The challenge has reportedly spread to countries including Spain, Portugal, Ukraine, Britain India, Pakistan and France.

Suicides in our country

Mumbai, West Midnapore district and some other parts of the country have reported alleged deaths linked to this game. A teen in Kerala is suspected to have committed suicide while playing this game. The social media companies are yet to reply to the email query sent to them for information on action taken by them after the Ministry’s order. The government has asked all major social media and communication platforms to “immediately remove” any links pertaining to the Blue Whale Challenge that has led several children around the world, including India, to commit suicide as a final task in the game, and asked for proponents of the fatal and masochistic game to be reported to law enforcement agencies.

Police are investigating if a dangerous underground social media game dubbed the ‘Blue Whale Challenge’ was been behind a teenager jumping to his death in Mumbai’s western suburb Andheri. The teenager, a 14-year-old Class 9 student, jumped from the fifth floor of his building in Andheri’s Sher-e-Punjab. A person standing near the building when the teenager took his life alerted police.

Details that have emerged since suggest that the teenager may have been discussing ‘The Blue Whale Challenge’ with his friends. Police are currently questioning the teenager’s friends, as well as some people on social media groups, to find out more. Sunny Valia, a friend, told police that all his friends knew that he was playing the Blue Whale game. The Blue Whale challenge is difficult to track and hunt down. There is nothing much the government or police can do to stop the spread of the Blue Whale challenge, said gamers and IT experts. The players also share their personal phone numbers and email addresses which enable the developers to use different psychological tactics to get back to the players by sending them emails and messages.

Threat & way out

The real threats are caused by downloading crack versions of online games from unofficial sources, done mainly to avoid paying for original versions. The crack versions come packaged with malware which are capable of extracting valuable data from users. There are crack versions of many popular online games with seemingly similar names to deceive unsuspected users. Parental supervision can avoid it to some extent. Also, parents can reconfigure operating systems like Android and iOS to restrict access.

Also, awareness needs to be created among children that downloading crack versions amounted to theft. Buying into baseless hysteria instead of taking such precautions will only result in playing into the hands of unscrupulous players who will benefit from such a smoke screen. Already several city schools affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and Indian Council of School Education (ICSE) have sent circulars and advisories to parents asking them to monitor their child’s Internet usage and offering them support of school counsellors, if needed.

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been moved in the Delhi High Court seeking directions to companies including Google, Yahoo, and Facebook, to take down links to the Blue Whale Challenge, a suicide game linked to several deaths worldwide.

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