The game that has got parents worried in Brazil is called Baleia Azul, a direct translation of the original Russian name, Siniy Kit, or Blue Whale. The name apparently comes from a song by the Russian rock band, Lumen. Its opening lines are, “Why scream when no one hears what we’re talking about?”
Believed to have started in Russia, and now migrating to other regions of the world, Blue Whale is a social media challenge that encourages teens and tweens to perform specific tasks over the course of 50 days.
The game administrators specifically target 10-14 year-olds and the only way to “win” the challenge is to die.
The last day of the 50 days requires a specific task, to die by suicide.
Some say this is Urban Legend, but the actual teen suicides reported by the media, connected with Blue Whale, don’t suggest Urban Legend at all.
Here is how it works:
The game’s administrators find players through “death groups” or “suicide groups” and once you’ve been accepted by an administrator, you are given your first of 50 daily challenges.
These can be anything from simple tasks like listening to a certain song, watching unsettling videos or waking up at random times during the night, or there can be much more extreme “challenges” like cutting words or symbols into your skin.
The first challenge usually comes at 4:20 am. (4:20 is well known among marijuana users and is code for being a pot smoker) Every time you accomplish a task, you must provide photo/video proof of completion to the administrators.
A journalist working at Radio Free Europe created an account on VK (Russia’s largest social media networking site) posing as a 15-year-girl. He then attempted to join Blue Whale. After making contact with an administrator, he was given the first task, which involved deliberate self-harm.
The transcript of the journalist’s conversation with the administrator follows;
“I want to play the game.”
“Are you sure? There’s no way back.”
“Yes. What does that mean? There’s no way back?”
“You can’t leave the game once you begin.”
“Carry out each task diligently and no one must know about it. When you finish the task, you send me a photo. At the end of the game, you die. Are you ready?”
“And if I wanna get out?”
“I have all your information, they will come after you.”
The first task the Radio Free Europe journalist was told to complete was to was to scratch one of the games hashtags, “F58” into their arm. The journalist tried to fool the game’s administrator with a Photoshopped image but the admin didn’t fall for it and stopped replying.
In early 2017, two female teenagers took their lives together by jumping from a 14 story building. The 15 and 16 year-olds both posted things directly linking their suicides to Blue Whale Challenge. This and similar social media “challenges” have been linked to between 80-130 teens, according to Russian media sources.
Online challenges that dare teens to engage in risky behavior are nothing new. The duct-tape challenge, the deadly choking game, the ice and salt challenge, how many Smarties can you smoke challenge, vodka eyeball challenge, the list is long, the results of which have been all over the news. But it is not just these challenges that are causing many parents to worry. The general use of social media to prank or to bully are cause for alarm.
Last month an 11-year-old boy died from injuries suffered in a March suicide attempt. Tysen Benz of Marquette, Michigan, hanged himself March 14.
According to the boy’s mother, he killed himself after receiving text messages that led him to believe his girlfriend had committed suicide. It was just a prank.
While there have been no reports of teen suicides linked to Blue Whale in the U.S., the co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, Justin Patchin, said that it has been on his radar since February.
Tweens and teens engage in these types of games for many reasons. In an interview for Yahoo, Mr. Patchin said, “part of it is the need to fit in, to be a part of the pack, to be appreciated, to be a part of something bigger than themselves. The last thing a teen wants is to be excluded,” Patchin says. “Even if no one else is doing it yet, they think maybe it’s a way to get likes, followers, recognition if they take this risk.”
Most at risk with these types online games or challenges are depressed tweens and teens. Depression causes human beings to see things in a very distorted and dark way. Tweens and teens who are depressed may see this kind of “challenge” as a way to connect with others in their darkness. Adolescents are naive and depressed teens are desperate. Desperate for connection of any kind, desperate to fit in somewhere, and desperate to be understood.
What Can Parents Do?
Communication with your child about who they are talking to online, what they are seeing online, and what they are doing online is important. The power of social media, the ways kids view it, and how it distorts reality, need to be in every parenting dialogue related to cyberspace.
Communication is imperative, but there are more effective ways of staying on top of your tween or teen’s online activity. Using Social Judo, for example, will alert you in real time if your child searches “Blue Whale”, “suicide” or any other word or phrase you are concerned about. It is the most comprehensive way to ensure your child is safe and healthy.
There will be more online “challenges” or “games” that hit the social media scene, and together, we can protect our kids from harm. It all starts with knowing exactly what the danger is, once we know, we can face it and defeat it.
Andrea Difilippo is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, nationally recognized parenting expert and Chief Parenting Officer with Social Judo.