The police in Western Europe is warning parents about a dangerous social media ‘game that has originated in the Russian Federation. The ‘Blue Whale challenge’ is said to have been responsible for numerous teenage suicides in Russia; it involves leading the participants through a series of challenges involving self-harm for 50 days before culminating in a suicide challenge.
British Police Community Support Officers are spreading the word on social media in order to alert parents of possible participation. Kirsty Down, the officer for the regions Devon and Cornwall posted on Twitter: ‘Whoever created this horrible game is sick! Parents: Please be aware of this ‘game’ talk to your children about it if concerned.’
The panic over the online challenge started after two teenage suicides in Russia last month, committed by children who are thought to have been participating
16-year-old Veronika Volkova fell to her death from a 14-storey building in Ust-Ilimsk, an industrial town in Eastern Siberia
Yulia Konstantinova, 15, the second victim from Ust-Ilimsk
As part of the challenge, game masters are telling participating girls to carve words or symbols into their bodies. Two more suicides in Russia are suspected to be linked to the Blue Whale Challenge: a 15-year-old girl in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk jumped from her apartment window, while a girl aged 14 jumped under a commuter train in Chita, near Mongolia.
On her social page, Yulia Konstantinova left a note saying ‘End’. Earlier, she had posted a picture with big blue whale, seen as a symbol of the online game. Veronika Volkova posted a similar message: ‘Sense is lost… End.’, after a series of eerie messages such as ‘Do you feel that gradually you become useless?’ or ‘I’m just a ghost’.
It was reported that two teenage boys were detained by police at the scene after allegedly filming the tragic double suicide.
Schoolgirl Yulia Konstantinova, posted one word – ‘End.’ – before falling from an apartment block in Ust-Ilimsk, Russia
The Russian Investigative Committee has opened a probe on ‘incitement to suicide’ regarding the pair’s death, releasing the following statement:
‘Investigators checked the scene, the homes of the minors, and interviewed relatives and friends of the victims, to establish the motives. Particular attention during the investigation of the criminal case will be given to the study of their social contacts on the Internet.’
In Krasnoyarsk, law enforcement recently opened three criminal cases of incitement to suicide involving schoolgirls via social media. Luckily, in this case, the game was stopped before anyone perished.
One local school director told police he had received an anonymous call saying a student had joined a ‘group of death’ and planned to commit suicide. The police managed to trace the girl who later explained that she had joined a ‘game’ in the popular Russian social media network ‘Vkontakte’, and was being given ‘tasks’ by the administrator of the group such as carving images of whales in her hands and searching for a high-rise building from which she could jump. Luckily, she did not obey the commands, but there are fears that others did.
Last year, a suspected ringleader was arrested in relation to at least 130 suspected suicides across Russia. This led to a reduction in such trends, but now fears are raging again that vulnerable teenagers are once again being swayed on social media.
The suspected ringleader who was arrested last year was named as 21-year-old Philip Budeikin. He was detained and charged with organizing eight groups which ‘promote suicide’ between 2013 and 2016. Investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported last year: ‘We have counted 130 suicides of children that took place between November 2015 to April 2016.
‘Almost all these children were members of the same internet groups and lived in good, happy families. We know absolutely for sure is that adults are working with children, with the help of knowledge of their habits and passions, using their favorite language and culture,’ reported the newspaper.
‘They know psychology well, they convince girls that they are ‘fat’, tell boys that they are ‘losers’ in this world. And that there is another world and they will be among the chosen.’
Ren TV has shared an internal report from the FSB secret service which claims that ‘the problem of provoking suicides among underage children via Internet is really serious’. Some sources, however, downplay the role of the Blue Whale phenomenon in Russian the suicide trend. The fact-checking website Snopes claims that it is ‘unproven’ the suicide game was solely responsible for the deaths.