A game, popular among teenagers, has now spread throughout the US, UK, France, Russia, and some other countries in Europe as well as in Asia like a deadly disease.
Played on social media sites, the Blue Whale Challenge gives the player some tasks with increasing difficulty. And while that sounds like every other alternate reality game, the ultimate task of the player is to end his or her life.
The Blue Whale Challenge is a one-on-one conversation between the player and the moderator. This conversation can happen anywhere on the web. Twenty-two-year-old Philipp Budeikin, the creator of this game, was imprisoned by a Siberian court. for his nefarious creation.
According to investigators, he claimed that the victims were “biological waste” and that he was “cleansing society.”
Officially, around 20 suicides in Russia have been linked to the game but suggestions by the media says the figure runs into the hundreds.
The assigned tasks -- which are to be completed over the course of 50 days -- initially make demands such as drawing a tattoo of a whale, or taking a nude photo of oneself, but then escalate to the point of asking the player to commit suicide.
It isn’t news that social media can have detrimental effects on one’s mental health, and unfortunately young people all over the world are drawn to this particular outlet. The group associated with the game is said to have thousands of members and subscribers on Facebook and YouTube.
The game next door
India has one of the highest rates of youth suicides in the world.
The increasing number is alarming, and while there are other factors in suicides to consider -- suicide is not very well understood -- the Blue Whale Challenge should not be discarded as a cause.
A student of class nine in Rajasthan, who had reached advanced stages of the challenge, was ready totake the plunge.
While his safety was ensured, he claimed that three of his classmates were also playing the game. India’s federal government has asked sites such as Facebook and Instagram to remove “links” that lead to alleged Blue Whale groups or sites.
The Challenge gives the player some tasks with increasing difficulty. And while that sounds like every other online game, the ultimate task of the player is to end his or her life
Some schools have even started issuing warnings and setting up awareness drives for students about its dangers, in turn raising alarm among parents and feeding into the sense of hysteria.
In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, smartphones have been banned in school, and one school in Punjab has asked its students to wear short-sleeved shirts so they can check for whale-shaped tattoos -- the alleged proof of participation.
However, Bangladesh has yet to find any case of suicides which leads to the Blue Whale Challenge.
Though a rumor had been making the rounds that a school girl in the capital committed suicide with links to the game, it was later disregarded for not having any relative cause in this regard.
It is, nonetheless, alarming for young Bangladeshi boys and girls, especially the teenagers who are entranced by the itch of social media, who may fall victims to this game.
Social media’s overflowing caution posts might just be enough of an advertisement to test out the waters of the Blue Whale Challenge.
Mehedi Hassan is a journalist.