The expression Blue Whale Challenge evokes a paradisiacal image, of enormous whales that plow through the waves of the planet's ocean. It might seem to be a metaphor of their survival instincts, well represented, for example, in the movie Big Miracle. Instead, the challenge of the blue whale (Blue Whale Challenge or Blue Whale), a role-playing game widespread through social networks, has been a phenomenon of instigating suicide with great impact on the web and much talked about.
Blue Whale is a role-playing game for teenagers, in which they must pass 50 tests. Some seem harmless ("see a horror movie"), others imply self-harm, until you get to the last 'challenge': "Throw yourself from the highest building, take your life." Blue Whale takes its name from the groundless assumption that whale beaching is due to their decision to commit suicide.
At the moment of initial contact, he who guides the actions of those who accept the challenges becomes known as a 'guide' or 'mentor.' To access the tests of this game you do not need to have a particular computer program or a specific application on the phone: the information is available on the Internet. Therefore, the web itself is– to some extent – responsible for its spreading.
Some social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter have created procedures to inform and warn about this type of game.
Before the Blue Whale Challenge
To raise the awareness of the danger it was a research NetFamilyNews.org , which proves how at the beginning it was treated as a false alarm and then, thanks to the online communication process, acquired credibility.
The information available so far on Blue Whale indicates that there is no definitive proof of the direct and exclusive relationship with the suicides to which it is linked. Despite this, as reported by IS4K , the Internet Security Center for Children in Spain, "there is the possibility that the spread of these news could have influenced and put young people in critical situations and have helped along the development of the game."
Blue Whale was born in a Russian social network (VKontakte), where a group of users, under the name of "F57", promoted this sort of activity. The alarm sounded on May 2016 when a Russian newspaper, reporting about the spike in suicides in the country, denounced that users such as "F57" and games like Blue Whale were part of the cause. Philipp Budeikin, a 21-year-old Russian boy, takes credit for the start up of the game. Some media outlets reported "that he was using the game to instigate people with mental problems." Speaking about these people, Budeikin called them "biological waste" and said that his intention was "to clean up society." Whether or not his intention was that, the authorities initially related him to the death of 16 teenagers. In the end, he was sentenced to three years and four months of imprisonment for the failed suicide attempt of two young people.
Surveys such as those carried out for Safer Internet Center de Bulgaria indicate that there is no overwhelming evidence on the relationship between some suicides and the game that went viral. However, the suicides in question capture media interest and cause concern from families, scholars, and organizations. The sensationalism of some media outlets and the imprudence of the users of social networks, which merely resonate with these facts without confronting credible sources, are the cause of a disproportionate alarmism.
The World Health Organization reveals that around 800,000 people around the world commit suicide every year. This is an estimate coming out from data official sources. Suicide is the second greatest cause of death of young people between the ages of 15 and 29. A good percentage of the cases can be attributed to additional factors such as mental disorders, "in particular disorders related to depression and alcohol consumption." The WHO adds: "Furthermore, relationships marked by conflict, disaster, violence, abuse, loss, and feelings of isolation are closely connected with suicidal behavior." Finally, it points out: "The main indicator of suicide risk is a previous suicide attempt."
The recommendations of the organizations that deal with these problems include: communicating, supervising, not propagating, and reporting are necessary actions to prevent the spreading of harmful contents.
Communication. It is the most sensible policy to prevent the participation of teenagers and young people in this sort of game. Communication amongst family members is key because all members feel considered and understood in their needs. One of the family priorities should be to improve the frequency of its inner communication, its quality and the attention to the emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs of the children.
Supervision. Curiosity is typical of young people and the Internet offers an infinite number of possibilities to satisfy it. Supervising does not necessarily mean restricting, even if sometimes it is appropriate. It is essential to know the contents that children and adolescents search for on the Internet, what pages they visit, the technological tools they use, in order to guide web navigation, and to know if they are prepared to make adequate and immediate decisions when set before negative content. We must help them to acquire "cyber-virtues"
Don’t spread it. Alerting other users is advisable, but it can be done without entering information that could contribute to divulging what is harmful. Furthermore, it’s necessary to know how to choose the appropriate channel with which to inform contacts on the web. On the other hand, it is convenient to forward messages issued by those who have the authority to do so: the police, Red Cross, organizations dealing with the protection of minors, experts, or means of communication that guarantee the verification of data and of the information they publish. In any case, the diffusion of images that do not help to inform or have a sensationalist purpose must be avoided.
Report and denounce. The most active participation that Internet users can make is to report and denounce the existence of accounts with this type of content. It is the most appropriate way for messages to be intercepted and their creators identified.
Blue Whale is not the only 'game' created by unscrupulous people who find cyberspace the proper place to gain followers among the most vulnerable people.
All this highlights the complexity of social networks, the consequences of the viral spreading of unverified information and the need not to lower our guard in educating on the responsible use of the Internet, especially amongst teenagers and kids.