Last week, our Safety Management team received a considerable number of inquiries from educators concerned about the game “Blue Whale,” which has ostensibly resulted in the death of dozens of teenagers by suicide.
The concern is far-reaching. The UK Safer Internet Centre Helpline has additionally observed an uptick in calls concerning the game that is alleged to have started in Russia.
According to the many stories currently circulating, children who play the game volunteer to complete a list of challenges, each more threatening and deranged than the last. The list of challenges includes: cutting your body in several areas; waking up early in the morning and watching demented online videos sent by a game administrator; poking oneself with a needle; and standing at the end of tall buildings and bridges and eventually committing suicide by jumping. Teenagers who decide to play the game are supposedly warned that, if they back out of the game after starting, someone who has their information will retaliate.
Our verdict is that this game shows all the symptoms of a sensationalized fake news story and is another example of how misinformation and poor online research can be unhelpful at best, harmful at worst. The dissemination of information about Blue Whale is, to date, bereft of original sources, and it frankly reads like a lousy, low-budget horror film.
Gaggle Safety Representatives have investigated thoroughly and have been unable to find any documented evidence of this game being real. Snopes has an extensive account of the game’s lack of credibility and authenticity that is worth reading if you want to avoid the abundance of misinformation online.
Despite our position that the Blue Whale game does not represent a real threat, this does nevertheless present an opportunity:
Make sure that you and your students are careful researching information found online and look for sources to avoid misinformation and fake news. The Internet is a powerful tool, but tools can be incredibly useless (and even dangerous) if we aren’t responsible with them.
Leverage this as an opportunity to discuss mental health, self harm and suicide with your students. Any excuse to provide mentorship and learn about your students’ opinions on controversial subjects like this is a good one.
Do not allow this “story” to desensitize you or your students to actual dangers online. Just because our Safety Representatives have determined that the Blue Whale doesn’t pose a threat to students, it does not mean that there aren’t similar threats out there. We have identified students who are victims of sextortion, which represents a real danger, although the topic can be sensationalized in “news” stories.
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