There’s a sudden burst of news about an online social media game called ‘Blue Whale’ that manipulates players - usually children - into completing a morbid set of tasks, culminating in suicide. You’ve probably received a WhatsApp forward cautioning parents or seen an article in the papers.
The game that supposedly originated in Russia, has raised an outcry across countries from Croatia, Latvia, Ukraine, to UK and Dubai, to Brazil, Argentina and the US. In some cases, school authorities have sent a letter to parents warning them about the game. In the UK, the police have taken to twitter to express shock and to warn parents. However, there is also speculation that the game is nothing but an elaborate hoax. What is the truth?
ChildSafeMedia did some research and here’s what we think parents need to know about it.
First, ‘Blue Whale’ is not a single game in the traditional video game sense. It is one of the many names of fringe communities on social media sites targeting tweens and teens. Entry into these sites must be approved by the administrator who usually goes by an online handle that isn’t his/ her real identity.
Second, the game doesn't have to be called Blue Whale. These communities first appeared on VKontakte (a popular Russian social media site like FaceBook). Some of these communities go by names like ’Silent House,’ ‘Sea of Whales’ and ‘f57’ for example - have content including images and music that are intended to tune into depressed tweens and teens.
Third, it seems to be a case of chicken and egg. When the administrators of these groups were contacted, they claimed they were only trying to build audience by riding on the wave of the internet sensation caused by a teen suicide (In November 2015, a Russian girl named Rina Palenkova laid herself down on a railway track and committed suicide) and subsequent interest among tweens in suicide and related topics.
The next month, another 12-year old Russian girl jumped to her death from a high rise. She had subscribed to a few social media groups that are now being nicknamed “death groups.” Suspicious, her grieving mother Irina took it upon herself to investigate, subscribing to several of these groups herself. What she found, shook up the system. Among others things, Irina found elaborate maps with cities marked in Red, from where subsequently many child suicides were reported, pointing to an organized set-up. She shared her findings with the Russian paper Novaya Gazeta.