Across the web there has been talk of ‘Blue Whale’ a social media game, which has allegedly lead to the suicide of over 130 teens in Russia. It is named after the phenomenon of whales sometimes beaching themselves, causing their own deaths. The game takes place over 50 days during which administrators or ‘game masters’ assign tasks to the players, the final task being death. These tasks range from the seemingly benign, such as listening to a particular song, to more sinister acts of self-harm. According to Russian reports, participants are instructed to inflict wounds in the shape of whales on their bodies, wake up at the hour of 4:20 and inundate themselves with horror movies.

Two teenage girls aged 15 and 16 named Yulia Kostantinova and Veronica Volkova were found dead after jumping from the roof of an apartment building over the weekend and following an investigation by authorities, evidence of their participation was discovered on Social media. Two boys were also arrested for allegedly filming the double suicide according to the Daily Mail.

A daily occurrence

Across Russia and the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, surrounding 'Blue Whale' are prolific, with hashtags such as ‘I’m in the game’ ‘sea of whales’ and ‘wake me up at 4:20’ being tracked to up to 4,000 uses by the Russian Public Internet Technology Center in January. While there is no question that this sinister game is harmful, it has proven almost impossible to provide a direct link between participation and suicide.

This has not stopped ‘Blue Whale’ from becoming a tool though, as politicians have begun sourcing it as a justification for increased control over the Internet and social networks.

Who’s to blame?

While ‘game masters’ use various threats and tactics of intimidation to manipulate participants in the game (it is reported that threats to family members gained via IP address based information occur frequently) experts believe that participants are driven to suicide due to external factors.

According to a Unicef report increased suicides ‘occurs in times of economic crisis and sharp social change.’ An example of this can be seen in the statistics between 1987 and 1994 following the collapse of the USSR. In addition, the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office has released data stating family conflicts and general distress as well as other external factors as the cause of 62% of adolescent suicides.

This goes to show that jumping the gun in terms of control of the web may not be the solution. Suicide prevention is a gravely important topic though, and if you or anyone that you know is suffering from depression or urges to self-harm please contact Samaritans of your local outreach for support.