What is Blue Whale game?

Updated - September 02, 2017 09:07 pm IST

Published - September 02, 2017 08:54 pm IST

The Blue Whale is neither fish nor fowl but a ‘killer’ online game of inflating proportions that nobody has reliably encountered. It is a sequence of online ‘dares’ that participants must progressively engage in to get ahead. These include etching a blue whale on your skin and jumping off buildings. There have been at least three reported suicides in India of youths who, according to media reports, were playing or had searched for the game online. Importantly, police officials have so far claimed that there is no evidence that these youths took their lives following instructions from the game. There is also no report of authorities actually encountering this game online in India. This, however, hasn’t stopped Members of Parliament from demanding that Facebook and Microsoft work to remove all online links to the game. The origins of this game and reportage surrounding it have been in Central Asian countries, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.

How did it come about?

Fact-checker website, Snopes.com, reports that the claim that the “blue whale” suicide game (named for how whales occasionally beach en masse and die) had resulted in a wave of suicides appears to have originated with a “misinterpretation” of a May 2016 story from the Russian site Novaya Gazeta. That article linked dozens of suicides of children in Russia during a six-month span, who were all part of a gaming community, on social media network VKontakte (VK.com). But subsequent investigations by other Russian news agencies showed that there were online communities or suicide groups on VK.com, but again nothing that linked an entity called ‘Blue Whale’ and a flurry of suicides.

Why does it matter?

Rina Palenkovoy was a Russian teenager who had posted a picture of herself on VK.com and then committed suicide. However, there were online communities like ‘Sea of Whales’ and f57 — all hosted on VK.com — that promoted role-playing games with tasks to be carried out in the real world. None of these, however, seems to require jumping off buildings but they do veer towards extolling suicide. Promoters of the website say their aim was to draw visits and advertising numbers and deny wanting to encourage minors to commit suicide. They also used iconography around Palenkovoy as promotional material.

On November 14, 2016, police outside Moscow arrested 21-year-old Filipp Budeikin on suspicion of being an organiser of a Blue Whale “death group.” Budeikin, according to Radio Liberty, said he was being questioned by the police. He seemed to suggest that he had incited some groups of minors to commit suicide but translations of his Russian interviews, into English, are shifty. Authorities said Budeikin was suspected of complicity in 15 suicides, but according to his lawyer, nothing has stuck. It is from here on that the Blue Whale phenomenon became truly global. The hype surrounding Blue Whale reveals how disconnected events can be clubbed together to create myths that spawn intriguing narratives and blitz across the globe via social media.

What next?

The popular belief — which has driven parents and legislators in many countries to ask for a ban — that the game induces the player to commit suicide is markedly false. Suicide-promotion forums predate the Internet and popular music and literature have abounded with artists and writers who have condoned self-harm and suicide. These include William Burroughs, author of The Naked Lunch, heavy metal icons Marilyn Manson and Ozzy Osborne and Kurt Kobain, the ultra-nihilistic frontman of grunge group Nirvana, who fatally shot himself. Thousands of their living fans walk this earth. Further, Russia and several Central Asian countries top the list of countries of the world with the highest suicide rates. Why India should be worried is because the rates of undetected depression, especially among teenagers, is high in the country. This stems from a general neglect of mental health for years and unsurprisingly, India too ranks among the top 10 nations with a high, basal suicide rate. While depression and suicide are complex problems requiring intervention at various stages, it would be false to label the Internet or social media groups as particularly responsible for promoting suicide.

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