‘BLUE WHALE’ DANGER?

SELF HARM: Game masters are telling teens to carve words or symbols into their bodies for the ‘game’ called ‘Blue Whale’, depicted here with a bloody cut in a teenager’s forearm

The ‘Blue Whale’ suicide game is believed to be run by an online social media group which is encouraging people to kill themselves. It’s thought a group administrator assigns daily tasks to members, which they have to complete over 50 days. The tasks include self-harming, watching horror movies and waking up at unusual hours, but these gradually get more extreme. On the 50th day, the controllers behind the game reportedly instruct the youngsters to commit suicide

By GO Staff

The Mumbai police are studying an online suicide game, the Blue Whale challenge, for a possible link to the death of a Manpreet Singh Sahani, 14-year-old boy, who allegedly committed suicide by jumping off the terrace of his five-floor building at Andheri (East) on Saturday, July 29. Before jumping off, Manpreet shot a picture that he captioned “Soon the only thing you would be left with is a picture of me.” The photograph shows Manpreet sitting on the edge of a terrace parapet with his legs dangling by the building.

While family, friends and the police are yet to agree on the reasons for the suicide, and the investigation continues, this is the second time this year the Blue Whale challenge is in the news, and unfortunately this time it’s closer to home. The ‘game’ first came to light through reports in May that police in the UK were warning parents about what appeared to be a sick suicide challenge known as Blue Whale that seemed to goad teens into committing suicide.

There were fears that vulnerable youngsters are being swayed to take their own lives through sick social media accounts, with one 13-year-old boy in Lviv, Ukraine pulled from the edge of a block of flats as he prepared to jump to “win” the twisted game.

Earlier this year, in February, fact-checking website Snopes reported that it was ‘Unproven’ that the suicide game was solely responsible for the deaths of multiple children. However, reports of incidents have continued to gain traction.

RUSSIAN ORIGIN

POLICE are said to be probing a number of suicides across Russia which they fear are linked to the online craze. Investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported: “We have counted 130 suicides of children that took place between November 2015 to April 2016. Almost all these children were members of the same internet groups and lived in good, happy families.”

Two schoolgirls Yulia Konstantinova, 15, and Veronika Volkova, 16, fell to their deaths from the roof of a 14-storey apartment block. Yulia left a note saying “End” on her social media page after she posted a picture of a big blue whale. Her friend Veronika also wrote: “Sense is lost… End.”

It was reported that two teenage boys were detained by police at the scene after allegedly filming their double suicide. The Russian Investigative Committee has opened a probe on “incitement to suicide” regarding the pair’s death.

In Krasnoyarsk, law enforcement recently opened three criminal cases of incitement to suicide involving schoolgirls via the groups on social media. In all three cases, the teenagers were rescued.

One local school director told police he had received an anonymous call saying a student had joined a “group of death” and planned soon to kill herself. The police identified the girl who explained that she had joined a “game” and had been given “tasks” by the group administrator. She did not obey the commands, which involved self-harm, but there are fears that others did.

In all cases, state investigators are probing whether the controversial social media suicide game had influenced the teenagers to take their own lives.

Two days earlier, a 14-year-old girl from Chita was reported to have thrown herself under a commuter train. Transport police confirmed the game is a possible “cause of death”. A second girl had made plans to kill herself with the dead teenager, but changed her mind at the last moment.

Last year, an alleged ringleader, 21-year-old Philipp Budeikin, was detained and charged with organising eight groups between 2013 and 2016 which “promote suicide”. He pled guilty in May this year and in a disturbing interview said his victims who killed themselves are ‘biological waste’ and that he was ‘cleansing society. ’A student of psychology, he was able to identify those susceptible and used techniques like sleep deprivation to gain control.

He denied reports that he and his game were directly responsible for over 130 deaths, stating that he had only directly influenced 17 deaths. He said others had communicated with him and committed suicide later, but without any direct influence from him. In July he was sentenced to three years in jail.

Critics of Noyaya Gazeta say that it arrived at the conclusion that a social media game was causing teenagers to commit suicide because several teenagers from the same social media group had taken their own lives. However, the critics argued, it is more reasonable to assume that depressed or suicidal teenagers are simply drawn to the same social media groups, not that the groups were causing them to commit suicide.

GLOBAL SPREAD

THE 15-year-old girl at the centre of a scare in Barcelona is understood to have been contacted by a mystery internet user at the start of the month who asked her if she wanted to commit suicide and sent her basic instructions.

Spanish radio station SER said she agreed to do everything she was asked and send photographs as proof, as well as erase online exchanges to ensure she left no traces of messages.

She reportedly began a series of daily challenges soon, which included self-harming herself on her arm with a knife and going to a nearby station to watch high-speed trains rush past. She is understood to have signed up to killing herself by throwing herself under a train – but became so absorbed in the game she was playing that she confided in a relative who alerted the police and health officials. She is reportedly now recovering in a hospital in Barcelona.

The case is thought to be the only one of its kind detected in Spain’s north-east region of Catalonia so far.

While no deaths in Britain have been linked to the game so far, police officers posted online warnings to parents in an attempt to get ahead of any possible danger.

CAUTION INDIA

THE death of Manpreet is the first sign of the deadly ‘game’ reaching India. The challenge is not a game that can be downloaded on a phone or a website and therefore banned, Udbhav Tiwari from the Centre of Internet and Society in New Delhi said. “Since there is no application or one specific website for the challenge, it can’t really be banned — not unless you completely ban the internet,” Mr Tiwari told PTI.

In Maharshtra’s Solapur, another 14-year-old ran away from home to complete a task set by ‘Blue Whale’ game handlers. Luckily he was found by the police and was handed over to his father.

In a third incident, on August 10, a student studying in Class 8 in a private school in Indore, attempted to jump from the third floor of his school. His friends were alert because he spoke of jumping from a moving van earlier in the morning. At the end of the assembly when the 13-year-old attempted to jump from the railings, his friends dragged him off. Their shouts reached the physical trainers teaching a class nearby who promptly came to rescue too. Apparently he had written about the 50 stages of the game in his diary. The suicide was the last stage of the game.

Efforts by PTI to locate the game — on Play Store and a series of websites — yielded no results. All downloads for Blue Whale led to children’s games that require an animated whale to cross various barriers or that provide safe challenges, like doing push-ups.

The deadly version can only be undertaken when its creators get in touch with would-be users. “The administrators of the challenge use different online forums to reach out to their victims. It can be Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp or any other online forum,” Mr Tiwari said. The curators apparently spot their victims based on their posts on different online forums.

It seems safe to say that such ‘games’ have the most impact on those susceptible — vulnerable children or those struggling with depression or other issues which should be a cause for concern in themselves.  Parents should be vigilant, and any unexpected changes in behaviour should be monitored closely.

 

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