As the number of deaths linked to the so-called “Blue Whale Game” rises, social media platforms are working to prevent this insidious movement from claiming any more victims.
The shadowy nature of the Blue Whale Game makes it particularly difficult to combat. The story of its rise in influence is a bundle of unverified rumors, roughly translated Russian websites and graphic images of self-harm. But even if the Blue Whale Game feels like an intricate Creepypasta, the fact remains that it has driven people to commit suicide. As YouTube’s popular Mr. Creepypasta told Inverse, the problem with dark stories that live on the internet arises when the reader believes it’s true.
What we know for sure about Blue Whale
The game, also known as the Blue Whale Challenge, originated on the European social media site VKontakte, a network that is especially popular in Russia. Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that the game first spread via “death groups” on the social media site, and connected 130 teen suicides from November 2015 until April 2016 to the game or associated groups.
Former psychology student Philipp Budeikin claims to be the mastermind behind Blue Whale, and bragged that he was “cleansing society” while on trial for his role in the death of 15-17 teenage girls.
A trans-continental threat
The game has apparently spread to the United States from overseas. So far, the deaths of two American teenagers have been connected to Blue Whale. Isaiah Gonzalez, 15, hung himself as he livestreamed from his cell phone on July 8th. Gonzalez’s father and sister both believe the teenager committed suicide at the behest of the game, and according to his sister, he sent pictures of the “completed tasks” to his friends.
After another teenager, a 16-year-old known to the media as Nadia, took her own life, her family discovered journal entries, collages and paintings directly related to the Blue Whale Game, including a drawing of Rina Palenkova, a Russian teenager who posted a selfie to VKontakte before killing herself by jumping in front of a train in 2015.
The unconfirmed information
The Blue Whale Game allegedly consists of a series of tasks issued to players by a “curator” over a period of 50 days. In order to find a curator, would-be players must reach out via social media, often through hashtags including “#f57,” “#i_am_whale,” and “#curatorfindme.”
The final task the player will be ordered to perform: suicide.
Though there is no verified list, the challenges remain largely the same across sources, and have not changed in nature since they were first circulated online several months ago.
The tasks vary in intensity. Some are as simple as drawing a whale on a piece of paper. Others seem designed to isolate: “12. Watch psychedelic and horror videos all day. 28. Don’t talk to anyone all day.” Many of the tasks involve waking up at 4:20 a.m. and heading to a specific location, like a nearby bridge, rooftop or railroad.
It is clear that most of the tasks are designed to break players down through isolation, sleep deprivation and physical injury. And it follows that teenagers would be especially susceptible to the allure of Blue Whale, a game that blatantly promotes self-harm- 12.5% of Americans aged 12-17 had at least one major depressive episode in a year, according to a study conducted through the National Institute of Mental Health in 2015.
This high incidence of depression demonstrates just how vulnerable teenagers are to the message of Blue Whale and the gamification of suicide.
Social media sites impose a solution
A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2015 found that 71% of teenagers use Facebook, 52% use Instagram, 33% use Twitter and 14% use Tumblr. Since social media is the primary conduit through which players find curators, some of these sites have decided to take action.
Instagram displays the following message when users attempt to search for some of the tags associated with the Blue Whale Game:
Tumblr takes its warning a step further and lists counseling and anti-suicide resources in its pop-up response:
These deterrents, however, are not perfect- Tumblr users are only prompted with the warning if they search for “blue whale” or “blue whale challenge,” and Instagram users can still search “#i_am_whale” and “#bluewhalechallenge” without getting cautioned.
Other social networks have remained neutral. Facebook and Twitter still allow users to search for Blue Whale-related content unhindered, despite users urging the sites to crack down.
The cooperation of additional social media networks strikes this reporter as essential in halting the spread of the Blue Whale Game, precisely due to its decentralized nature. Because there is no single perpetrator and because players are voluntary (if often underage) participants, it is difficult to imagine an end to the game without official, systematic intervention.
It remains to be seen how many more lives the Blue Whale Game will claim. The game lacks mainstream appeal for obvious reasons and is unlikely to reach epidemic status.
But the loss of even a single additional victim of Blue Whale constitutes a senseless tragedy, and measures to prevent such a loss must be implemented before it is too late.
Photos via Telemundo, Reddit, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube