(continued from last week)
This article is a report on the Blue Whale Challenge – an Internet phenomenon that is claimed to have caused the suicides of hundreds of youth all over the world. The article details the development of the game in the media. At the end is a list of behaviors to look out for in people who might be participants in the game. Since it almost always ends in the death of the participant, the author finds it important to ask his readers to first read those behavioral patterns so that they may be vigilant; especially since the length of the article might dissuade readers from finishing.
July 11th, 2017 – The Washington Post reports on the suicide of a 15-year-old in the U.S. named Isaiah Gonzalez. The report states that parents of the deceased believed their son died due to the game. They found he had hanged himself in his room and live streamed the suicide through his phone. Another reporter later wrote that local police claimed there wasn’t enough evidence to connect the suicide of Isaiah to the Blue Whale Challenge.
July 11th, 2017 – SkyNews publishes a chilling report, a story about Oleg Kapeav, a UK resident who claims to have participated in the challenge and being close to finishing – by jumping off a building in Moscow – before being rescued by his family. Mr. Kapaev said, “I couldn’t believe anyone could actually kill themselves by playing it. Because I didn’t believe it I guess, I decided to look for it.” He claims that once a participant, the game administrators psychologically manipulate you, “you become a bit of a zombie.” About the end – why participants are driven to suicide, Mr. Kapaev says, “I didn’t feel like I needed to kill myself. I felt I needed to complete the task. I only had this thought in my head that I need to complete the task.”
Why would anyone agree to kill himself or herself just because some strangers on the Internet asked you to? It seems that once a participant declares their intention to play the game, they are hooked and trapped by blackmail. Some participants who successfully stopped playing, or who were in the process of playing told reporters that the game administrators seemed to have information about the families of the participants. And that these administrators constantly threatened participants with harm to their families should they back out.
This timeline of the Blue Whale phenomenon in the media might confuse a lot of readers. It doesn’t seem to justify the credibility or dis-credibility of the stories. But some experts of suicide prevention claim that the question of credibility doesn’t matter. The stories about these suicides can create a “suicide contagion” – where youth copy other youth killing themselves. So, the need to know the truth of it might only be an intellectual matter at this point. No matter what, societies, parents, police, and everyone should treat them as being true and remain vigilant to see that youth in Bhutan don’t become participants to games like this.
What is terrifying is the increasing traffic the phrase “blue whale challenge” or related searches are getting on Google in developing countries like Kenya and India. In fact, in the past month, India has received the high searches of “blue whale game.” Even more so, the South Asian region’s Google Trends records show that more and more people have been looking to download or find the game for themselves. Search queries such as “blue whale apk,” “blue whale challenge download,” etc. are all marked “breakout” by Google. The “breakout” tagline is reserved for queries whose search queries have gone up drastically in short periods of time.
Thankfully, most social media sites have already installed bulwarks against people’s curiosity of the Blue Whales Challenge. If you tried to look up the phrase on Tumblr, you’ll be greeted with a page that says, “Everything okay?” along with a number of suicide prevention hotline numbers. Facebook and other sites have also created similar features to protect people, the youth especially, from participating n the game. But the truth is that when it comes to the Internet, no measure is good enough. It might have been that the game was never a real story, but that it became one once fake stories about it went viral. Once a phenomenon is brought to the notice of the Internet, it becomes co-owned and co-opted by all kinds of users from all over the world. And thereby, a fake story might evolve into a real one, and then, no vermin can be completely killed – to try to clean the Internet of practices like the Blue Whale Challenge is like playing whack-a-mole. If you hit a mole at one place, more might appear at other places, and if you tried to hit all the moles, they will appear outside of the board – underground. And at that point, practices become even more difficult to police, patrol, and pacify. But it is relatively easy to recognize and save youth from participating in this challenge. There are themes in the 50 acts that signal that someone is participating in the Blue Whale Challenge. If you notice more than one or two signs listed below in someone you know, talk to them and seek assurance that they are not participating in the game – make sure to follow through and observe their behavior and actions:
Cuts on skin (usually, participants are asked to write F58 or blue whale or 4:20)
Cuts on wrist (participants are asked to produce lengthwise cuts on their wrists)
Whale drawings on paper
Cuts on skin or cuts that read “yes”
Scratches on skin that read F40
Hashtags like #ImAWhale #bluewhalechallenge #I_am_whale #SeaOfWhales #WakeMeAt420 #F57 #F58 #CuratorFindMe on social media
Waking up at 4:20 AM more than once or twice.
Waking up at 4:20 AM to go to a roof
Scratch out or draw a whale on hand
Spend an entire day watching horror videos
Needle marks on arms
Standing on edges of roofs and taking pictures
Standing on edges of bridges and taking pictures
Climbing on cranes
Skyping unknown people (participants are asked to speak with their curators online)
Go to the rails
While these are specific things to look out for in people who might participate in the challenge, most experts have said that youth who tend to be interested in things like this are those who aren’t doing well – mental health wise. Therefore, the best possible prevention is definitely taking care of the mental health of youth in Bhutan. Even without this challenge, there already is a disgustingly high rate of suicide among youth. To follow these tips and ensure that the Blue Whale Challenge or any sinister games like it don’t claim any victims in Bhutan is not just a duty to the nation, it is also a morally righteous task.
…but that silence, to me, was a statement that Bhutan has little strategic interest in the dispute, apart from its relations with India
Vishal Arora is a New Delhi-based independent journalist. He travels, writes, and produces video features on life, politics, culture and foreign affairs in South and Southeast Asia. His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Bangkok Post, World Politics Review, Nikkei Asian Review, The Diplomat and many other outlets. He was formerly the features and political editor at The Caravan magazine and an editor at Indo-Asian News Service.
Business Bhutan reporter Lucky Wangmo talks to him about the recent Doklam issue and mobile
journalism of which he is a pro.
- How do you view the recent Doklam issue in the historical context as a journalist?
- The Doklam issue has little to do with Bhutan. It’s a manifestation of the India-China competition in gaining more influence in the region. Thimphu would have resolved the issue long ago had it not been for India’s strategic interests in the disputed area.
Bhutan largely remained silent during the peak of the tensions, but that silence, to me, was a statement that Bhutan has little strategic interest in the dispute, apart from its relations with India.
The dispute is not new, and it will keep emerging from time to time depending on developments in India-China relations.
- Seeing the discussions and deliberations that followed the Doklam face-off and its aftermath, how would you view the whole incident/issue?
- I’m worried that some racist and divisive voices within Bhutan that were marginal until the Doklam issue are now apparently beginning to be seen as mainstream. Speaking against India by such voices is understandable, but what is unacceptable is raising suspicions about the loyalty of people from certain ethnicities.
I observed that since Bhutan maintained silence during the Doklam issue, some foreign media began to quote bloggers and social media users as Bhutan’s view. As a result, those bloggers sort of gained credibility within Bhutan. That can be dangerous.
- On Thursday, you conducted a one-day informal training on mobile journalism or mojo. Can you tell us briefly about this latest form of visual storytelling?
- To deal with the shrinking advertising revenue, all media houses – be they online, print, radio or television – are required to cut the cost of production drastically, while at the same time, they also have to use videos for their websites and on social media. Video is fast becoming the language that youth around the world want to receive news in. So mobile journalism alone can help media houses in the current scenario.
- How can mojo change journalism and journo trends in the country?
- From the point of view of journalists, mobile journalism can instantly make them relevant and employable internationally.
Mobile journalism improves the quality of reportage, too. Have we ever wondered why cinema, and not television news, does a fantastic job in storytelling? The answer is simple. Commercial filmmakers use equipment that are “mobile.” They invest in equipment to move the camera to follow the protagonist of a story. Now, the technology has made it possible for journalists to be almost equally “mobile” with their cameras, as mobilephones can shoot high-resolution footage.
However, mobile journalism, too, requires certain technical skills and the art of storytelling. This is why a workshop on mobile journalism can immensely help media houses and journalists in telling better stories and doing better business.