Dragged into the deep by the Blue Whale

Virtual trap: The Blue Whale game involves multiple challenges, like carving the image of a whale on the forearm. Photo for representational purpose.

Virtual trap: The Blue Whale game involves multiple challenges, like carving the image of a whale on the forearm. Photo for representational purpose.   | Photo Credit: Shaju John

Survivors of the extreme game say they parted with personal details and pictures and were exposed to threats by the administrators

Last Monday, a 17-year-old girl, with the outline of a blue whale carved on one of her arms, jumped into the Kaylana lake, 8 km away from Jodhpur, even as the police were trying to dissuade her. The girl, Meenal (name changed) a Class 10 student, had been playing the deadly game and by the time her parents noticed her absence, she had set out for the final challenge — to kill herself.

She had been told by the game administrators that she could either jump off the roof, slash her wrists and bleed to death or jump into a river or a lake. The investigating officer of the Rajiv Gandhi Nagar police station told The Hindu that when Meenal’s parents informed the police, they called her phone, which was picked up by a stranger: Meenal had thrown it away after buying a knife and carving the blue whale on her arms; she had got on her moped and was headed towards the lake.

Family at risk

The police put out word and information came back that someone matching the description was in the vicinity of the lake. Even as the police located her and pleaded with her not to, she jumped. Luckily, some divers, who were in the lake rescued her. When the police took her back home, Meenal had to be rushed to the hospital again later that night; she had tried to kill herself by overdosing on sleeping pills. She told the police that if she didn’t kill herself “they” would kill her mother.

Meenal told Dr. K.R. Dhaukia, who treated her and facilitated counselling, that she first heard of the Blue Whale game in the news and was curious. When she got the link from an unknown number and downloaded it, she began receiving instructions. She played every night, for most of the night. She began sending photos of herself and her family, began to cut herself every day, and received more instructions. Meenal had fallen into the trap.

A few days earlier, another Class 10 student had fled home, purchased a knife and had gone to Mumbai to complete the final Blue Whale challenge. His parents told the police that he had gone missing. His classmates told investigators that the boy had been talking about the game and its several stages.

Police traced his whereabouts through his cell phone, and reached him before he could take the drastic step. The boy had got hooked after seeing YouTube videos on the game.

Tracking records

Rajasthan Additional DGP (Crime) Pankaj Kumar Singh said Android phones used by the two teenagers, their data, internet usage and call detail records were being analysed. “The State police have sought the assistance of the Centre's Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), and are treating the Blue Whale game as a developed model of cyber crime,” he said.

In Puducherry, the Blue Whale would have swallowed Anusha (name changed), a 21-year-old woman, had she not made a call to her friend at an hour when she should have been fast asleep. Anusha, who works in a nationalised bank, left home around 11.30 a.m. on September 3. She called her friend that evening to say she was in “a daze and could not place where she was.” Then she cut the call. She called again, at 4.30 a.m. She had spent the entire night on the Promenade, near Gandhi Thidal, and was distressed. Her friend called the Odian Salai police.

Police personnel who spoke to the victim said she had left home after quarrelling with her mother. “She always had a strong sense of isolation in the family,” said a senior official.

She had been playing the Blue Whale game for some time. Anusha had established contact with several others who played the game as well. She had inflicted several cuts on her arms and had switched to long sleeved dresses to hide them. The game administrator extracted more and more details about Anusha and her life. “That’s how they came to know about her character and vulnerability,” said the officer.

At one point, she wanted to opt out of the game but was persuaded to stay the course. The police recovered from her a paper with a drawing of a blue whale and words in Russian.

Lonely pursuit

Just a day after Anusha was rescued from Puducherry, a 22-year-old boy from Neravy in Karaikal was freed from the grip of the game. He had been instructed to walk into a graveyard at night to take a selfie. His alert brother informed the police. Stephen (name changed), who worked at a private firm in Chennai, said he got the link from a WhatsApp group. His brother told the police that he stayed away from work, was mostly awake at night, and would go out early in the morning.

Senior Superintendent of Police, Karaikal, V. J. Chandran told The Hindu that the youth wanted to leave the game after he realised the danger but was threatened with dire consequences if he went offline. He had taken a selfie standing on the parapet of his house and inflicted injuries on himself. “‘You came at the right time’ was his response when the police reached him,” said Mr. Chandran.

“For every link we block, a hundred more can be created in minutes. Also, Blue Whale is a peer-to-peer game, where one can only play if he has been sent the link by another user. This makes it hard to track. Awareness is the best approach to deal with the issue,” says Superintendent of Police, Cyber Crime, Maharashtra, Balsing Rajput.

A large part of the problem is rumours about the Blue Whale being responsible for suicides. In the case of a 14-year-old boy who committed suicide in Jogeshwari in Mumbai in July, the Meghwadi police are yet to find concrete evidence linking the extreme step to the Blue Whale game.

Mr. Rajput adds, “We cannot associate every death with Blue Whale without proper investigation.”

Signs to watch out for

Sudden or prolonged isolation, mood episodes and a change in the friends circle are tell-tale signs that parents should watch out for.

“The player interacts with someone in the virtual world who threatens with the challenges but in a thrilling way. It is like taking someone on a roller coaster ride. All this is done in isolation and, therefore, parents have to closely watch the signs,” says Mumbai-based psychiatrist Dr. Rajendra Barve.

Mumbai psychiatrist Dr. Malay Dave says that only those who are constantly trying to play the game by searching for it or hash tagging about it get the link.

Doctors say that one cannot dismiss the fact that the players may be suffering from either an underlying, unknown mental ailment or a diagnosed problem. “Teenagers are vulnerable and can be easily manipulated,” said psychiatrist Sagar Mundhada, from KEM Hospital, also in Mumbai.

On August 15, the Central government through the Law Ministry gave directions to Google, Facebook, Yahoo and WhatsApp to remove all links to the game.

(Reporting by Rajesh B. Nair, Mohammed Iqbal, Gautam Mengle, Jyoti Shelar and Sonam Saigal)

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Printable version | Aug 3, 2020 5:26:54 AM |

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