The dangerous "game" is killing teens
Warning: Graphic content ahead.
It seems like every year there’s a new and terrifying “trend,” usually born online, that encourages kids to hurt themselves or each other.
Sometimes these fads turn out to be true, and oftentimes, they’re just singular incidents or urban legends that get blown out of proportion by worried parents and a sensationalistic media. But better safe than sorry, right?
Unfortunately, in Russia, several of these online crazes have been leading to a terrifying spike in injuries and even deaths among children and teenagers. The latest craze started earlier this month. The especially haunting “game” for teens hit the Internet hard; it starts off with innocent challenges, but ultimately the “tasks” become more dangerous until it’s too late.
The Dangers of the Web
Since the dawn of the Internet, it feels as though there has always been some viral trend, prank, or group trying to do harm or trick others into hurting themselves. Often, the target of these nefarious stories/schemes are children and teenagers.
And who can blame these kids? It’s easy to want to believe in dark tales or web-born myths and legends; humans have told similar stories for thousands of years. Though we’re learning slowly and steadily, there was a time when people believed everything they read online; many people still do! How is a younger person supposed to discern between truth and reality, especially when there’s a challenge or reward involved?
Most recently, we’ve seen these Internet hoaxes cause real-life harm, such as in the case of the 12-year-old girls who lured a friend into the woods and stabbed her 19 times in order to impress Slender Man. This fictitious character is perfect proof that a mythos made entirely online can manifest itself into something much more sinister.
If you know where to look, you can find anything on the Internet, and I mean anything. This is simultaneously fantastic and terrifying. On one hand, the Internet is the most democratic means of equalizing and sharing knowledge; on the other hand, there are more dark and dangerous places online than we’d like to count.
Sadly, among these darker realities are so-called “suicide games” (often disguised as challenges) as well as “death groups” that are run by admins that coerce members into killing themselves. Individuals or small groups of truly sadistic people can create these groups, attracting members with the hopes that their “game” will grow popular and harm as many people as possible. Such is the case of the Blue Whale game, now making headlines across Russia and neighboring countries.
Blue Whale Challenge
There’s a problem in Russia. Specifically, the country has ranked third (on several reports across several years) for teen suicide rates, a disturbing trend that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. Experts attribute the high suicide rates in Russia to the ready availability of alcohol and a poor quality of life for many citizens.
But there’s something else that investigators, journalists, and concerned parents now worry may have led to a recent peak in suicides between November 2015 and April 2016. While experts don’t believe there’s a direct link, the Russian site Novaya Gazeta reported that many of these young people who committed suicide all belonged to the same online community, a Russian social media network called VKontakte.
On this site, investigators found macabre images, depressing song lyrics, and even direct messaging aimed at teens emphasizing the dreariness and pointlessness of life. Indeed, they had stumbled upon some instructions behind the Blue Whale game, so called because of how blue whales will sometimes intentionally beach themselves before dying.
The point of the game? Players follow instructions from an anonymous leader for 50 days — with the tasks growing increasingly more difficult — before ultimately committing suicide.