We all issued a collective gasp around here this week, reading about the online game called Blue Whale, A.K.A. The Suicide Game. And of course right away I was hoping it was a big hoax.

When I checked out the details, I¬†was kind of hoping it was some awful teen-focused version of Grand Theft Auto — but that would be a step up. In fact, it’s a more like a¬†real life version of a Black Mirror episode.

What is Blue Whale?

Reportedly, teen users are asked to download the game, then perform¬†a new task as instructed for 50 days. The tasks include¬†waking up frequently at 4:20 AM, watching horror films, committing acts of self-harm like cutting, or¬†killing an animal and posting photo evidence¬†— all with the intent¬†to break down vulnerable teens over time.

On the final day, users are instructed to commit suicide.

Good God.

Related: 8 shocking statistics about kids and social media use that will make you want to have a tech talk now

 

So is Blue Whale a hoax?

There’s been a lot of debate as to whether Blue Whale¬†is a hoax, but from what I can tell there’s some legitimacy¬†to it, even if some of the facts are unproven or misleading.

There are thousands of hashtags on Instagram alone for #bluewhale related references. And fortunately, Instagram is issuing¬†a strong warning before allowing you to click¬†on any of the hashtags. That’s something I¬†haven’t seen before.

 

Blue whale suicide game: Is it a hoax? What parents need to know.

Another thing I haven’t seen in a personal level: The photos actually using the tags.

(I’ve read enough to know that I don’t want to see them, even if they’re mocking or satirical.)

According to the Daily Mail and other sources, the Russian 21-year-old Blue Whale creator, Phillipp Budeikin is currently serving jail time while he awaits trial for inciting suicide, which would indicate that this is indeed a game and there may be a man with culpability for the horrible results of it.

Related: Expert internet safety tips parents can put to use right now

Now what’s¬†not clear,¬†according to Snopes, is whether dozens of¬†suicides throughout the former Soviet Union are “conclusively” linked to or caused by Blue Whale. However there are in fact many cult-like “suicide groups” or “death groups” online with members who¬†are drawn to the game, so it’s a little chicken/egg in terms of causality.

It’s even possible that it was originally started as a form of clickbait from an online teen forum in Russia, according to Snopes. In that way, it reminds me of the 2014 Slender Man¬†incident¬†— people doing horrible things¬†and ascribing their motives to something they found on the internet.

What can parents do about it?

Of course hoax or not, everything about Blue Whale as a concept¬†is horrifying. I’m seriously shaken even writing about it, as the mother of an almost-teen.

However this isn’t to be alarmist or to make you think that this is an urgent issue requiring immediate attention. But if nothing else, it is a good reminder, once again, that there are things you can¬†and should do.

Have The Tech Talk early and often
-Make use of these smart internet safety tips
Keep an eye on your kids’ social media use¬†— it’s not “snooping” if they know about it
-Know the signs of depression and look out for signs of suicidal behavior. The Society for the Protection of Teen Suicide is a good resource for starters.

And of course, as with anything else in the world, keep channels of communication open with your kids. That way,¬†if they come across Blue Whale or similar copycat “games” that are sure to pop up, they feel comfortable¬†letting you know so you can help work with your¬†school or community to¬†get a head start on addressing it.

Top photo: Steinar Engeland via Unsplash

 

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