In the midst of catastrophic natural disasters and deadly human violence that are already taking their toll on human civilization across the globe, another sickening sign of impending apocalypse seems to have emerged on social media today.
Whether it is real or a hoax, many media reports suggest that a spate of teenage suicides around the world over the recent years could have been instigated by an online pressure group through the deadly game called Blue Whale which allegedly pushes depressed and vulnerable children to kill themselves.
Although the real existence of the game and its links to the recent teenage suicides have not yet been fully confirmed by police in any country, the governments, agencies and institutions in many countries have already started warning parents to be aware of their children’s online activities.
According to Hindustan Times, a school in Punjab in India has even introduced a rule that requires all its students to wear short-sleeved shirts so that the Blue Whale tattoos, one of the signs of the child’s participation in the game, can be seen. This shows that just as in any other country where the game has created a wave of panic, India has also been hit by this social hysteria especially after some of the children who committed suicide across the country were suspected to have participated in the game.
Although the main administrator and the creator of the Blue Whale game, Philipp Budeikin of Russia has pleaded guilty to inciting suicide and has been sentenced to 3 years in prison, the sickening game seems to be still viral on social media through closed groups.
It is said that the administrator of the game sends out invitations to vulnerable children through social networking sites and psychologically manipulate them to kill themselves at the end. The game is said to have 50 tasks to be carried out within the span of 50 days with the last task requiring the participant to commit suicide.
The game is believed to begin with simple tasks such as solving simple puzzles and watching horror movies during wee hours, but it gradually progresses into more dangerous levels where the participants are required to harm themselves by carving on their skin with razor blades or poking themselves with sharp objects until the day they kill themselves.
The worst part of this deadly challenge is that the moment you accept the invitation to play the game, it is said that your mobile phone will be hacked and the organizers of the game will even call you and threaten you if you ever leave the game. There are also reports saying that after it has been banned in many countries, it has started reappearing under different names such as A Silent House, Wake Me Up At 4:22, etc. So it is always important not to click on suspicious links that come into your inboxes.
We don’t know if Blue Whale does really exist on the internet or it is only a hoax as some people claim, but we cannot afford to ignore completely what is happening across the globe at the moment. For a small nation like Bhutan, every single child is an asset and it will be certainly a national disaster if our children ever fall prey to such notorious online pressure groups.
With the number of children committing suicide increasing in the recent times, we certainly have a reason to worry about the safety of our children. As parents, our priority should be to ensure that our children use social media responsibly. We should never be tired of reminding them of the dangers of virtual interactions and the importance of their online privacy.
If you ever notice that your child is spending more time than usual on the internet, becoming more secretive, socially withdrawn or becoming restless after using the internet, experts say that you have a reason to worry.
An open and honest conversation will be more helpful for your child to share the secrets. Yelling and scolding might further shut them up for fear of being denied access to the internet. As a parent, I always try to have open communication with my children on any issue I choose to discuss with them and they openly share their views.
My daughter has currently deleted her Facebook account after I warned her about the dangers of social media in relation to the Blue Whale suicide challenge and I have advised her to add only her friends and family-members if she ever creates another account. I have also taught her how to set her privacy on Facebook to stay safe from strangers. No matter what, it will be always wise for parents to remain watchful of their children’s online activities and regularly monitor their use of mobile phones. This would ensure that they are always safe.
By Amrith Bdr Subba
The writer is a visually challenged counselor at the Youth Center Division, Department of Youth and Sports under the Ministry of Education.