The Darker Side of Social Media: Blue Whale

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A ‘challenge’ played out on social media, the online suicide game Blue Whale may have already caused 130 teen deaths in Russia. There are now increasing worries about the effect it is having on teens globally.

The Blue Whale ‘death groups’ are thought to have first originated on Facebook in Russia several years ago. Group administrators purportedly encourage players to complete a set number of tasks over a period of 50 days, before eventually urging them to take their own lives.

In recent months, incidents related to the game have been reported in a number of other countries including Kenya, Brazil, Ukraine, Estonia and Argentina. Online safety campaigners estimate that thousands of young adults have tried to play the game in Russia alone.

There are now so many posts relating to the game on social media that Instagram has issued a public warning to those who search for the hashtag #BlueWhaleChallenge and encourages them to seek support. It does, however, give users the option to ‘see posts anyway’ – which according to the Sun include images of self-harm and pools of blood.

Instagram warning
The warning which appears on Instagram | Credit: Cameron Ridgway

Oleg Kapaev, a Russian university student who started playing the game as he was bored and curious, told Sky News that he was initially instructed to tell the administrator how he wanted to die, and to spend all night watching horror films.

As time went on, the tasks Oleg was set became increasingly dangerous. He was asked to cut patterns into his skin symbolising the ‘pathway to the end’ and post a photo online as proof that he had done so.

‘They start psychologically manipulating you.’, he admitted.  ‘It is very professionally done. You become a bit of a zombie.’

Oleg’s life was saved by his parents, who called the police after noticing suicide related comments on his social media and the fact that he had bought a plane ticket to Moscow, where he had been told to jump from the top of a 20 story building. Others, including the parents of 15-year old Yulia Konstantinova, have not been so fortunate.

Although there are no recorded British victims of the ‘game’, concern is growing about its reach within the UK. Police officers have posted online warnings to parents, and one school in Essex sent out a letter to parents to warn them about the risks.

In Russia, the government is debating legislation that will make the creators of pro-suicide groups on social media criminally responsible and could lead to jail terms of up to four years for those who incite others to commit suicide.

The NSPCC said that internet providers should be ‘stepping up their game to make sure we’re keeping children safe online’.

Blue Whale has not yet been proven directly responsible for any deaths, however.

If you have been affected by the issues mentioned in this article, contact the SUSU Advice Centre for help on advice@susu.org, or telephone the Samaritans on 116 123.

 

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  4. The Darker Side of Social Media: The Lighter Side of Life
  5. The Darker Side of Social Media: Effects on Employability
  6. The Darker Side of Social Media: Cyberbullying
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Deputy Editor 2017-18, International Editor 2015-17. Languages student adjusting to being back in the UK after a year in Chile. Interested in Latin America, world news, media and politics.

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