Don’t Fear The Blue Whale. But Stay Clear of the Paranoia Around It.
Last week, the Indian media took it upon itself to save Indian children from the latest in online threats. The reportage feverishly conjured a kind of tsunami of suicide slowly inching its way to Indian shores claiming the lives of impressionable teenagers in its unstoppable swell.
It’s online and it’s everywhere, the news informed us. It moves in mysterious ways. It comes from the land of Russia where evil internet wizards dwell.
The week before the media was telling you about fake news. But there’s a time and place to be rational. This clearly was not that time.
The news convinced you that you could not understand the Blue Whale Challenge; that it was beyond your control. You can try saving your kids by keeping their online activities under constant surveillance, it said. But good luck with that. #HopeFloats
To whittle it down to four words, some of the august institutions in the Indian media were telling you to, clearly, simply and quite irrationally- Fear the Blue Whale.
And by the end they had convinced the government that it was one of the most single most pressing issues of our time.
What is The Blue Whale Challenge?
“The Blue Whale Challenge” is an internet game that was first seen in an online group on the Russian social media network called VKontakte (VK). It is not a “video game” in the common sense of the word. Rather it seems to be a text based game with elements of extreme roleplay. This means that it can be played over any communication network. Eg: the administrator emails/texts/whatsapps a particular task to the user. The user completes the task and sends the report or evidence back to the administrator. Thus ends round 1 and begins round 2 of the game.
Within this Blue Whale VK group, the administrators would first allegedly ask the interested user to handover their personal information in order to start with the game. Then they would supposedly assign a series of increasingly dangerous and disturbing acts culminating in a final act which asks the user to jump off a tall building. It is alleged that the personal information handed over to the administrator is used by them to exercise control over the user, preventing them from leaving the game.
How Many Verified Suicides Have Been Caused by The Blue Whale Challenge So Far?
What Proof Do We Have That The Blue Whale Challenge Exists?
As far as we are concerned, this page of VK deleted on account of “content that justifies suicide” that many of the Blue Whale links leads back to offers the only quasi-real proof.
Considering that deleting a page has never solved a problem on the internet, one could speculate that the suicide groups may have found a more secure and untrace-able part of the internet to operate out of.
The rest is a load of unverified claims, photo-shaped imagery, unreliable translations and internet creepypasta. (an inventive genre of horror legends & stories that uses the medium of the internet)
Why We Shouldn’t Fear The Blue Whale?
The basis for reporting in the Indian media are a string of articles that have reported either in the kind of tabloid that even Wikipedia may not cite as a valid source or in websites that thrive on clickbait. Other news portals who have reported on a challenge make it a point to highlight that the existence of the “Blue Whale Challenge” as it is being portrayed is yet to be verified.
The only credible platforms that seem to un-ironically carry reports on the Blue Whale Challenge are unfortunately Indian news portals. And this in turn is ending giving credibility to the rumors and legends itself.
Why Should Beware & Caution our children against the Indian Media’s Reporting of the Blue Whale Challenge
According to this report from the American Foundation From Suicide Prevention, Suicide Contagion or “Copycat Suicide” occurs when one or more suicides are reported in a way that contributes to another suicide.
It also says that:
Research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals.
The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration and prominence of coverage.
Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/ graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death.
Suicide is a public health issue. Media and online coverage of suicide should be informed by using best practices. Some suicide deaths may be newsworthy. However, the way media cover suicide can influence behavior negatively by contributing to contagion or positively by encouraging help-seeking.
In reporting the Blue Whale Challenge, the Indian Media has clearly missed the mark at both – avoiding misinformation & promoting hope. Rather the approach was to pile on allusions until the reader felt overwhelmed and lost a sense of control.
All the while irresponsibly risking the possibility of instigating copycat behavior among impressionable teens whose mental health may be at risk. If there is anything to fear on this scenario, it’s the media reportage.
Why the Government Response is Lacking?
There have, as of today, been 3 incidents of teen suicides in the country where unproven links to the Blue Whale Challenge have cropped up. As the media piled on the frenzy, the government reacted. The promptness of the reaction is reassuring but the measures taken leave a lot to be desired.
The Government has ordered a few social media platforms including Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Microsoft and Yahoo to take down Blue Whale related content. This well-meaning order reveals a mis-understanding of the phenomenon.
Promoting or inciting suicide will be taken off most of these platforms as per their safety policies so the order does not really add anything new to the existing systems. In the case of an encrypted OTT messaging app like WhatsApp content takedown by a third party is not a real thing that can be done.
Also the order limits the whole of the internet to just 5 platforms. This has frequently been a feature of how the government looks to tackle online safety issues but it is limiting and is it serves any purpose, it makes these platforms seem quasi-safe zones while the activity that is being crack down shifts elsewhere.
Also as mentioned earlier, Blue Whale Challenge as it is being described is a text based game that can be played over SMS in a very basic phone. The order makes no attempts to address even the alleged nature of the issue.
In failing to address suicide as a mental health issue, the Government and the Media have not come through for the Indian children. It could have engaged in a much needed conversation on teenage suicide but instead it chose to follow the Blue Whale which ended up being a Red Herring.
What Should Parents Do?
Now thanks to the media, your child probably knows about the ‘Blue Whale Challenge’. A conversation around online safety and mental health would be good and re-inforce the fact that if anything were to ever go wrong in any online or offline space, you are there for them, you will not judge them and they can always talk to you.
Also talk to them about fake news and how the Indian media misinformed and blew up the phenomenon.
Also, don’t be afraid. Don’t be overwhelmed.
You are in control. And you will be able to protect your children.
- CLICK HERE FOR THE WARNING SIGNS OF SUICIDE
- Talking about wanting to die
- Looking for a way to kill oneself
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk.
- *Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.
- CLICK HERE FOR A LIST OF SUICIDE HOTLINES
- Sikkim – 221152, Police Control Room, Gangtok
- iCall, Mumbai – +91 22 2556 3291, e-mail – email@example.com
- Vandrevala Foundation Helpline – 1 860 266 2345, e-mail – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Thanal – 0495 237 1100E-mail – email@example.comAddress – Iqra Hospital
- Prathyasa – +91-480 – 2820091Address – VidyaJothi
Irinjalakuda 680 685
- Pratheeksha – +91 484 2448830E-mail – firstname.lastname@example.orgAddress – Near Ambedkar Park
North Paravur 683 513
- Saath – 079 2630 5544, 079 2630 0222Address – B12 Nilamber Complex
H.L. Commerce College Road
Ahmedabad 380 006
- Roshni – 040 790 4646E-mail – email@example.comAddress – 1-8-303/48/21 KalavathyNivas
- Lifeline Foundation – +91 33 24637401, +91 33 24637432Address – 17/1A Alipore Road
Sarat Bose Road 700 027
- Sumaitri – 011-23389090E-mail- firstname.lastname@example.orgAddress – Sumaitri
Aradhana Hostel Complex
No. 1 Bhagwan Das Lane
Bhagwan Das Road
- Maithri – 91- 484 – 2540530E-mail – email@example.comAddress – ICTA Shantigram
Changampuzha Nagar (P.O.)
Kochi 682 033
- Connecting India – 9922001122, 18002094353Website – connectingngo.orgAddress – Connecting Trust
Dastur Girls School
- Nagpur Suicide Prevention Helpline – 8888817666
- The Samaritans Mumbai – 022 6464 3267, 022 6565 3267, 022 6565 3247Address – B-3, Trisandhya
Behind Ambika Sarees
Dadar (E) 400014
- Sneha – 91-44-2464 0050, 91-44-2464 0060E-mail – firstname.lastname@example.orgAddress – #11, Park View Road
- Maitreyi – +91-413-339999Address – 255 Thyagumudali Street
- Aasra – 91-22-27546669E-mail – email@example.comAddress – 104, Sunrise Arcade
Plot No. 100
Navi Mumbai 400709
(source:- Indian Express)
Also read, The Blue Whale Fact Check