Blue Whale (game)
The Blue Whale Game (Russian: Синий кит, translit. Siniy kit), also known as "Blue Whale Challenge", is a 21st-century social network phenomenon that is claimed to exist in several countries, beginning in 2016. The game reportedly consists of a series of tasks assigned to players by administrators over a 50-day period, with the final challenge requiring the player to commit suicide.
"Blue Whale" came to prominence in May 2016 through an article in a Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, that linked many unrelated child suicides to membership of group "F57" on the Russian-based VKontakte social network. A wave of moral panic swept Russia. However the piece was later criticised for attempting to make a causal link where none existed, and none of the suicides was found to be as a result of the group activities.
Russian journalist Galina Mursaliyeva first drew attention to "death groups" in an article published in the Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta in April 2016. The article described the death groups "F57" on Russian social media site VKontakte, that she claimed had incited 130 teenagers to commit suicide. The origin of the name "Blue Whale" is uncertain. Some reports say that it comes from a song by the Russian rock band Lumen. Its opening lines are "Why scream / When no one hears / What we're talking about?" and it features a "huge blue whale" that "can't break through the net." Others say it is "believed to be a reference to an act carried out by some blue whales, who appear to beach themselves on purpose, causing them to die."
The game is said to run on different social media platforms and is described as a relationship between an administrator and participant. Over a period of fifty days the administrator sets one task per day; the tasks seem innocuous to begin with (get up at 4:30 am, watch a horror movie), and move on to self harm leading to the participant committing suicide on the final day. Claims of suicides connected to the game have been reported worldwide.
Mursaliyeva's article was criticised at the time of its release for lacking credible data and balance. "The 130 cases of suicide cited in the article appeared to be calculated by the author." No link between the game and any suicide has been proven.
While many experts suggest "Blue Whale" was originally a sensationalised hoax, they believe that it is likely that the phenomenon has led to instances of imitative self-harming and copycat groups, leaving vulnerable children at risk of cyberbullying and online shaming. As of late 2017, reported participation in Blue Whale seems to be receding; however, internet safety organisations across the world have reacted by giving general advice to parents and educators on suicide prevention, mental health awareness, and online safety in advance of the next incarnation of cyberbullying meme.
"People join narratives to explain their experiences...that is possibly why some children have said they participated in the rumoured challenge despite there being no proof of its existence."— Dr Achal Bhagat, Delhi psychiatrist., BBC News India, September 19th 2017
In 2016, Philipp Budeikin, a 21-year-old former psychology student who was expelled from his university, claimed that he invented the game in 2013. He said his intention was to cleanse society by pushing persons to suicide whom he deemed as having no value. Although originally claiming innocence and stating he was "just having fun", Budeikin was arrested and held in Kresty Prison, St Petersburg and in May 2016 pled guilty to "inciting at least 16 teenage girls to commit suicide." He was later convicted on two counts of inciting suicide of a minor.
Commentators such as Benjamin Radford have pointed out that sensationalized stories in world news regarding the involvement of Budeikin have all linked back to just two Russian sources, with tabloid news outlets replicating the same information without elaboration.
In June 2017, postman Ilya Sidorov was arrested in Moscow, also accused of setting up a "Blue Whale" group to encourage children to self-harm and ultimately commit suicide. He claimed to have persuaded 32 children to join his group and follow commands.
Several news reports have appeared on Brazilian media linking cases of child self-harm and suicide with Blue Whale. Police have several ongoing investigations, although as yet none has been officially confirmed. Altogether, eight Brazilian states had cases of suicide and self-mutilation suspected to be connected with the game.
The first news about Blue Whale appeared in Bulgaria in mid-February 2017. The Safer Internet Centre, established under the Safer Internet plus Programme of the European Commission, responded quickly. "(T)his sensationalistic story was inflated by a number of our clickbait websites creating a wave of panic among parents", Centre Coordinator Georgi Apostolov reported.
"We decided not to initiate contact directly with the media since this would attract additional interest and could mislead the public into believing the story to be somehow true. As the hype was magnified by thousands sharing the story on the social networks, we just published a warning on our website and spread the link in comments under all shared in Facebook articles and posts. Then the mainstream media themselves started asking us for interviews and quoting our conclusions that it evidently was a hoax."
Two discussion groups about suicide opened on Facebook, but were quickly reported and deleted. The diffusion of the viral news was stopped within two weeks. Later, when a sensationalist piece in the Romanian newspaper Gândul resulted in five more articles being published in Bulgaria that reported the challenge as real, media again circulated SIC's positions, and the hoax was stopped immediately.
Throughout 2017 media in India reported several cases of child suicide, self-harm and attempted suicide alleged to be a result of Blue Whale and in response the Government of India's Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology requested that several internet companies (including Google, Facebook, and Yahoo) remove all links which direct users to the game. Some commentators accused the government of creating a moral panic. Indian internet watchdog the Centre for Internet and Society accused the coverage of effectively spreading and advertising a "game" for which there is little evidence. In India suicide was the second most common form of death of children, according to a 2012 report. The Supreme Court asked the Indian Central government to ban the game, following which the government responded that since Blue Whale wasn't an application, it couldn't be banned.
Finally in January 2018, after a full investigation the government reported there was no evidence that any death was as a result of Blue Whale saying “The committee analysed the internet activities, device activities, call records and other social media activity, other forensic evidences and also interacted with rescued victims associated with these incidents. Involvement of Blue Whale challenge game in any of these incidents could not be established.“
The debunking site BUTAC reported the total lack of evidence to affirm the game's existence. On 14 May 2017, a TV report by Le Iene about 'Blue Whale' on the national channel Italia 1 linked the challenge to an unconnected suicide in Livorno, Italy. The report showed several suicide scenes, mostly from videos on LiveLeak depicting adults unrelated to the challenge. It incorrectly described the footage as evidence of teenagers playing the game. The report interviewed a schoolmate of the Livorno teenager, two mothers of Russian girls who supposedly took part in the game, and the founder of the Russian Center for the safety of children from internet crimes. Following the report, coverage of the challenge in the Italian media increased, with many outlets describing it as real. There was a sharp rise in Google searches for the challenge, and some panic.
On 15 and 16 May, newspapers announced the arrest of Budeikin, without saying that it happened months before. His unconfirmed statements about his supposed victims being "genetical rubbish" were reported as real. Paolo Attivissimo, a journalist and debunker of hoaxes, described the game as "a death myth dangerously exaggerated by sensationalist journalism". Police received calls from terrified parents and teachers, and there were reports of teenagers taking part in the challenge. These included several cases of self-mutilation and attempted suicide. Most reports were considered to be false or exaggerated. Alleged participants were reported from all over Italy: Ravenna, Brescia and Siracusa.
On May 22, 2017 the Polizia Postale declared that they had received 40 alarms. On the 24th this number was increased to 70. On its website the Polizia Postale defines Blue Whale as "a practice that seems to possibly come from Russia" and offers advice to parents and teenagers. Several alleged cases have since been described by newspapers.
In March 2017, authorities in Russia were investigating approximately 130 separate cases of suicide related to the phenomenon. In February a 15-year-old and 16-year-old threw themselves off the top of a 14-story building in Irkutsk, Siberia after completing 50 tasks sent to them. Before they killed themselves together, they left messages on their pages on social networks. Also in February, a 15-year-old was in critical condition after throwing herself out of an apartment and falling on snow-covered ground in the town of Krasnoyarsk, also in Siberia.
On 11 May 2017, Russian media reported that Philipp Budeikin "plead guilty to inciting teenagers to suicide," having described his victims as "biological waste" and claiming he was "cleansing society." He was held at Kresty Prison in St. Petersburg with charges of "inciting at least 16 teenage girls to kill themselves."
On 26 May 2017, Russian Duma (parliament) passed a bill introducing criminal responsibility for creating pro-suicide groups on social media, in the wake of 130 teen deaths linked to the Blue Whale suicide challenge. On 7 June 2017, President Putin signed a law imposing criminal penalties for inducing minors to suicide. The law imposes a maximum punishment of six years in prison.
In March 2017, Romanian Minister of Internal Affairs Carmen Dan expressed her deep concerns about the phenomenon. Mayor of Bucharest Gabriela Firea described the game as "extremely dangerous".
In Brazil, in response to the game, a designer and a publicity agent from São Paulo created a movement called Baleia Rosa (Pink Whale), which became viral. It relied on the collaboration of hundreds of volunteers. The movement is based on positive tasks that value life and combat depression. Also in Brazil, Sandro Sanfelice created the movement Capivara Amarela (Yellow Capybara), which proposes to "combat the Blue Whale game" and guide people seeking some kind of help. Participants are separated between challengers, who are the people who seek help, and the healers, who are kind of godfathers of these people. An Adventist school in southern Paraná, in partnership with other education networks, also sought to reverse the situation by proposing another charity game, the "Jonas Challenge" (referring to the biblical character Jonah, who was swallowed by a whale and vomited up three days later). Other games created in Brazil in response to the Blue Whale were the Baleia Verde (Green Whale) and the Preguiça Azul (Blue Sloth).
In Belo Horizonte and Recife metropolitan area in Brazil, many schools promoted lectures to talk about the Blue Whale game. The Brazilian police, who are specialized in High Technology Crime Repression (Dercat) in Piauí is preparing a digital primer to warn young people about the dangers of the game.
In the United States, one site, also called the "Blue Whale Challenge", does not identify as an effort to combat the game, but offers fifty days of challenges that promote mental health and well-being.
In May 2017, Tencent, China's largest Internet service portal, closed 12 suspicious Blue Whale-related network groups on its social networking platform QQ. It said that the number of this kind of groups is on the rise. The search results of related keywords was also blocked in QQ.
In September 2017, the Iranian Minister of Information and Communications Technology posted a message in his official Instagram account to warn parents and teachers about the spread of the Blue Whale challenge among Iranian teens.
In October 2017, Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan stated that the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission has been directed to investigate the Blue Whale game after reports of suicide around the country. BTRC released a notice urging people to call a specific number if any web link or any information related to the Blue Whale game were to be found. Later that month, the Bangladeshi High Court ordered a 6-month ban on special night-time internet packages provided by various mobile operators across the country in order to curb suicides resulting from the game.
On March 12, 2018, the parents of seven Tunisian children who claimed their children had killed themselves due to the game requested a ban on Blue Whale from the Tunisian courts. A trial court in Sousse issued an interim judgment prohibiting Blue Whale and another supposed similar game named "Miriam".
American Skeptic Ben Radford researched the phenomenon, calling it the Moral Panic Du Jour and equating it to the Dungeons and Dragons Controversies of the 1980s. Radford also states "this is only the latest in a long series of similar moral panics and outrages shared on social media... the best antidote ... is a healthy dose of skepticism."
- "Blue Whale: Should you be worried about online pressure groups?". Archived from the original on 2017-05-12.
- "Teen 'Suicide Games' Send Shudders Through Russian-Speaking World". RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. Archived from the original on 2017-06-20. Retrieved 2017-06-23.
- "FACT CHECK: 'Blue Whale' Game Responsible for Dozens of Suicides in Russia?". 27 February 2017. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
- Patchin, Justin W. "Blue Whale Challenge". Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved 25 September 2017.
- "Advice for those concerned about the 'Blue Whale' story". UK Safer Internet Centre. Retrieved 25 September 2017.
- Mursaliyeva, Galina (16 May 2016). "Death Groups (10+)". novayagazeta.ru. Archived from the original on 11 November 2017. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
- Bershidsky, Loenid (26 April 2017). "Why the Russian Suicide Game Went Global". bloomberg.com. Archived from the original on 8 October 2017. Retrieved 8 October 2017.
- Alluri, Aparna (19 September 2017). "Why is 'Blue Whale' hysteria gripping India?". bbc.com. Archived from the original on 24 November 2017. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- Khazov-Cassia, Sergei (21 February 2017). "Teen 'Suicide Games' Send Shudders Through Russian-Speaking World". rferl.org. Archived from the original on 25 November 2017. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
- Trincadi, Giulia; Salvia, Mattia. "The Truth About 'Blue Whale,' an Online Game That Tells Teens to Self Harm". vice.com. Archived from the original on 10 November 2017. Retrieved 10 November 2017.
- "ANALYSIS: The five main questions to the Novaya Gazeta article about teenage suicides". meduza.io. 17 May 2016. Archived from the original on 8 October 2017. Retrieved 8 October 2017.
- Worley, Will. "Blue Whale: Fears in India over 'viral suicide game' mount as 'government calls for internet giants to ban links to it'". The Independent. Retrieved 25 September 2017.
- Gartland, Fiona. "No proven link between Blue Whale game and suicides, says expert". Irish Times. Archived from the original on 1 December 2017. Retrieved 25 September 2017.
- Hempel, Jessi. "Killing the Blue Whale Challenge". Wired. Retrieved 25 September 2017.
- Minas, Estado de (21 April 2017). "Escolas de BH se mobilizam contra o jogo Baleia Azul". Archived from the original on 18 May 2017.
- "Blue whale challenge administrator pleads guilty to inciting suicide - BBC Newsbeat". BBC Newsbeat. 2017-11-05. Archived from the original on 2017-06-21. Retrieved 2017-06-23.
- "Биомусор". Новая газета - Novayagazeta.ru (in Russian). Archived from the original on 2017-06-23. Retrieved 2017-06-23.
- "Founder of Online 'Blue Whale' Suicide Group Sentenced". Moscow Times. Retrieved 25 September 2017.
- Radford, Benjamin. "The Arrest and Conviction of 'Blue Whale Game' Svengali Filipp Budeykin". Center for Inquiry. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
- Bennetts, Marc. "Russian postman lured teenagers into his Blue Whale internet suicide game". The Times. Retrieved 25 September 2017.
- "Bangladesh ranks 3rd globally in looking up Blue Whale Challenge online | Dhaka Tribune". www.dhakatribune.com. Retrieved 2017-10-13.
- "'Blue Whale' game: Boy hospitalised for taking antidepressants". The Daily Star. 2017-10-12. Retrieved 2017-10-13.
- Bassette, Fernanda. "O 'jogo' da baleia azul e a tragédia de Maria de Fátima | VEJA.com". VEJA.com (in Portuguese). Retrieved 21 September 2017.
- "Garota de 15 anos desaparece na Bahia e família suspeita de jogo da 'Baleia Azul'" [15-year-old girl disappears in Bahia and family suspects of ‘Blue Whale’ game]. G1 (in Portuguese). Globo. Archived from the original on 2017-04-21.
- "Polícia diz que mãe impediu suicídio de filha que jogou 'Baleia Azul' no RJ". Archived from the original on 2017-04-21.
- "Oito Estados têm suicídios e mutilações sob suspeita de ligação com Baleia-Azul - Brasil - Estadão". estadao.com.br. Archived from the original on 2017-05-19.
- "The man who stopped the Blue Whale hoax in Bulgaria". Archived from the original on 2017-07-16.
- "Blue Whale Challenge: At least 75 Whalers in Tamil Nadu's Madurai".
- "Blue Whale Challenge: Indore boy noted tasks in school diary before trying to kill self". The Financial Express. 11 August 2017. Archived from the original on 11 August 2017. Retrieved 11 August 2017.
- "Blue Whale Challenge: Class VI student hangs himself to death". Zee News. 28 August 2017. Retrieved 28 August 2017.
- "Blue whale game claims one more life in Madhya Pradesh". The Indian Express. September 3, 2017. Retrieved September 5, 2017.
- "No evidence of any death due to Blue Whale challenge game: Govt". The Hindu. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
- "Istigazioni "social" al suicidio, panico in Russia per le chat della morte. Ma è solo un brutto scherzo". 3 June 2016. Archived from the original on 2017-08-18.
- Maicolengel (9 March 2017). "Il Blue Whale game e il giornalismo". www.quotidiano.net. Archived from the original on 16 May 2017.
- "Blue Whale a Ravenna, salvata 14enne". Ansa. 28 May 2017. Archived from the original on 2017-06-02.
- "Blue Whale, il gioco della morte arriva a Brescia. Cos'è, le regole e come riconoscere le vittime". BsNews.it. 2 June 2017. Archived from the original on 2017-06-06.
- "Nuovi sospetti casi di "Blue Whale", due ragazzi salvati a Siracusa e nel Barese". La Stampa. 2 June 2017. Archived from the original on 2017-06-02.
- "Blue Whale: consigli". commissariatodips.it. 22 May 2017. Archived from the original on 25 May 2017.
- Dario Sautto (26 May 2017). "La blue whale arriva nel Napoletano: la Procura di Torre Annunziata apre un'inchiesta". www.ilmattino.it. Archived from the original on 18 August 2017.
- Paulo, iG São (7 April 2017). "Jogo em rede social russa leva adolescentes a cometer suicídio - Mundo - iG". Archived from the original on 22 April 2017.
- Metro.co.uk, Richard Hartley-Parkinson for (28 February 2017). "Teenagers are taking their own lives 'because of social media game blue whale'". Archived from the original on 22 April 2017.
- "Jogo em rede social russa leva centenas de jovens ao suicídio, segundo suspeita da polícia - Notícias - R7 Internacional". Archived from the original on 2017-04-22.
- "Russian lawmakers vote to ban pro-suicide social media groups". Archived from the original on 30 May 2017. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
- "Putin signs law imposing criminal penalties for inducing minors to suicide". Archived from the original on 12 July 2017. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
- Alexandru, Cătălin (March 28, 2017). "Carmen Dan: Mă îngrijorează fenomenul "Balena albastră"; nu am stabilit o legătură între joc și cazurile cu care ne-am confruntat". Agerpres (in Romanian). Archived from the original on April 4, 2017. Retrieved April 3, 2017.
- ""Balena Albastră". Carmen Dan și Gabriela Firea vor face vizite în școlile bucureștene". Digi 24 (in Romanian). April 2, 2017. Archived from the original on April 2, 2017. Retrieved April 3, 2017.
- "Página 'Baleia rosa' propõe desafios para combater jogo da 'Baleia azul'". Archived from the original on 2017-04-20.
- "Em reação à Baleia Azul, publicitários criam lista de 'tarefas do bem'". Archived from the original on 2017-04-21.
- "Em meio à polêmica do jogo Baleia Azul, curitibano lança o desafio da Capivara Amarela". Archived from the original on 2017-04-21.
- "Educadores fazem proposta de jogo contrária ao Baleia Azul". Novo Tempo. Archived from the original on 31 July 2017. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
- "Delegacia do PI prepara cartilha para alertar sobre perigos do jogo 'Baleia Azul'". Archived from the original on 2017-04-22.
- "Blue Whale Challenge". /www.bluewhalechallenge.me. Archived from the original on 2017-07-31. Retrieved 2017-07-31.
- Group, Global Media (4 May 2017). "A "Baleia Verde" que quer caçar e acabar com a "Baleia Azul"". jn.pt. Archived from the original on 31 July 2017.
- "Tencent closes suspicious network groups on Russian ‘Blue Whale’ suicide game Archived 2017-08-18 at the Wayback Machine.. People's Daily Online.
- "واکنش وزیر ارتباطات ایران به بازی چالش نهنگ آبی و خطر آن برای نوجوانان". euronews (in Persian). 2017-09-07. Retrieved 2017-10-22.
- "BRTC to probe 'Blue Whale' game: Minister". 2017-10-16. Retrieved 2017-10-16.
- "Bangladesh telecom regulators asked to probe 'suicide game Blue Whale' - bdnews24.com". 2017-10-12. Retrieved 2017-10-16.
- "BTRC launches helpline for raising Blue Whale awareness". 2017-10-16. Retrieved 2017-10-16.
- "Dial 2872 to report 'suicidal Blue Whale game' to BTRC - bdnews24.com". 2017-10-12. Retrieved 2017-10-16.
- "Blue Whale: HC orders 6-month halt on special internet night packages - bdnews24.com". 2017-10-16. Retrieved 2017-10-16.
- Les jeux « La baleine bleue » et « Mariam » désormais interdits en Tunisie, Webdo.tn, march 6, 2018.
- (in Arabic) "الحوت الأزرق".. يسبب انتحار تلميذة هي الضحية 7 في تونس, arabi21, march 12, 2018.
- Radford, Benjamin (2017-11-04). "Moral Panic Du Jour: The 'Blue Whale Game'". Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). Archived from the original on 2017-06-28.
- Radford, Ben (2018). "'Blue Whale' Game Suicide Conspiracy Surfaces". Skeptical Inquirer. 42 (1): 7–8.