Earlier this year it was reported that a social media game that leads teenagers to commit suicide might be heading to South Africa. The game is known by many different names such as ‘A sea of whale’ or/and ‘A Silent House’ but it’s commonly known by the name ‘The Blue Whale’.
This is a controversial game that has power to encourage depressed teenagers to take part in a number of sinister challenges assigned to them by administrators of the game also known as ‘masters’. The game is based on a mutual relationship between the player and the master. After the player has agreed to the terms and conditions, he/she will be involved in a number of tasks given to them by the master that must be completed, usually one a day. Some tasks involve self-mutilation, some can be given in advance, and the last task will be suicide. More than 15 countries worldwide have linked teenagers committing suicide with the game and fears are spreading that the game might be heading this way.
We all know that social media has taken control of our lives, and with online cravings evolving day by day, games such as Blue Whale play into the hands of vulnerable teenagers and also makes it difficult to stop spreading due to the global power that social media has.
Games such as Blue Whale has been meticulously designed to appeal to young people who are in need of attention, gratification or friendship, as it gives then every day interaction with another person online and it makes them feel appreciated for succeeding and completing a task. The online master build’s trust with the users, verbally rewarding them for their performance, before setting the final challenge of taking their own lives. It’s still unclear who is running Blue Whale or why anyone would want to encourage such a crime.
In Georgia, on 27 May 2017 Rustavi 2 TV reported that a 12-year old girl tried to commit suicide, allegedly as part of the game. The girl jumped from the fifth floor but survived and is undergoing medical treatment at hospital with multiple injuries and traumas. Police have launched an investigation into the case, but no official statements have been made.
In China this year, a suicide group was formed by a 10 year old girl who posted several photos of her self-mutilation related to the Blue Whale. Since then authorities began to monitor mentions of the game on forums and live broadcasts.
During the summer of 2017, Chinese authorities became increasingly concerned with the link between the destructive Blue Whale “game” and the budding self-harm trend of “human embroidery”. A form of self-harm popular among teenagers and linked with depressive social media posts.
In Saudi Arabia, on the 5th of June 2017 a 13 year-old boy ‘Metlaq Affas Albugami’ committed suicide in his room, his body was found by his mother. The boy used his Play Station wires to commit suicide. This is the first known victim in the country.
Russia has more than 130 cases linked to the game, recently, On 8 June 2017, one of the Blue Whale suicide game administrators Ilya Sidorov, 26, was arrested in Moscow.
Why would someone want to play such a game?
A research shows that People who have survived suicide attempts, say they didn’t wanted so much to die as to stop living, a strange dichotomy but a valid one nevertheless.
They’re depressed. This is without question the most common reason people commit suicide. Severe depression is always accompanied by a pervasive sense of suffering as well as the belief that escape from it is hopeless. The pain of existence often becomes too much for severely depressed people to bear. The state of depression warps their thinking, allowing ideas like “Everyone would all be better off without me” to make rational sense.
They’re crying out for help and don’t know how else to get it. These people don’t usually want to die but want to alert their family members that something is seriously wrong. They often don’t believe they will die, frequently choosing methods they don’t think can kill them in order to strike out at someone who’s hurt them, but are sometimes tragically misinformed. Games such as Blue Whale take advantage of that.
They have a philosophical desire to die. The decision to commit suicide for some is based on a reasoned decision often motivated by the presence of a painful terminal illness from which little to no hope of reprieve exists. These people aren’t depressed, psychotic, maudlin, or crying out for help. They’re trying to take control of their destiny and alleviate their own suffering, which usually can only be done in death. They often look at their choice to commit suicide as a way to shorten a dying that will happen regardless.
They wish to be someone else. They wish to be confident as their role models or just be them, they feel like their useless and they wish to have certain qualities that might make them cool. So they look run to the internet to look for game such as The Blue Whale to give them that platform to be someone different.
What can the community and parents do to protect the youth?
It’s important not to jump to any conclusions, but to use the resources we have to analyse whether a child is at risk.
A noticeable difference in behavior, such as withdrawal from social activities or acting anxious can be a warning sign that a child could be experiencing some form of abuse. Signs of self harm also begin to link behaviors to those of the challenges through Blue Whale. Luckily, most children who are pushed into playing the game are often disturbed by the thought of taking their own life, and will send out a cry for help before doing so. This should give an opportunity to save the child before it’s too late and thankfully there have been a number of reported cases where intervention has occurred in time to stop the suicide.
It’s also important for local authorities and schools to ensure they have appropriate systems in place to block access to not only Blue Whale but all similar sites. Using a filtering solutions will allow you to control young people in your care to not access such content, and allow you to place control on social media use. This is important due to social media being used as the carrier for the games communication. It’s also important that you are able to use the information about individual’s online behavior to identify whether they are indeed taking part or being drawn into bad conversations.
Using safe guarding tool or monitoring system, you are able to review the sites being accessed by pupils or students and are able to monitor their online conversations if given a cause for concern.
Parents must be warned by schools and authorities to be aware of The Blue Whale, and therefore it’s important that schools also take appropriate measures to protect young people.