SUICIDE CHALLENGE OF THE BLUE WHALE!
The US has seen a surge in suicide in the past few years and the world is also changing. A disturbing suicide challenge coming from Russia has progressively spread to the world including the US. This game is targeting teenagers with a series of tasks, 50 in total to accomplish in 50 days. An article from the BBC in January explains the unusually sinister phenomenon.
The first few tasks the suicide challenge promotes do not sound alarming but as the challenge gets closer to the end date, the tasks are becoming more life-threatening. It has been reported that the game went viral and spread around the world including Ukraine, India, and the US and could possibly have been linked to over a hundred deaths. But is this myth or reality?
The original story seems to have started in 2015 when a Russian teenager, Rina Palenkova, killed herself after posting photos on social media about her last few days. Russian Forums, where kids discuss various school subjects and other topics sometimes heavy such as depression, loneliness, and suicide, picked up Rina’s story. Kids started posting emotional comments about her fate, sharing similar stories, and adding to the mystery about what was real and what was fiction.
Daria Radchenko, a senior researcher at the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, looked into the matter and stated that “Nobody actually knew the true story behind (Rina’s) suicide”.
Unfortunately, in the same year, two new teenage girls from the city of Ryazan, Russia, killed themselves. The parents discovered, after the fact, that their daughters had been part of those online groups and found drawings of Blue Whales from Rina Palenkova.
Several speculations exist on why the whale was chosen as the symbol of suicide, some describe whales as solitary creatures often beaching themselves and sad-looking animals.
In 2016, a Russian journalist, Galina Mursalieva from an investigative newspaper, wrote about the story generating an increased awareness. Galina found the morbid suicide challenge promoted by those online groups which could be responsible for 130 children suicides from November 2015 to April 2016. Russia was suddenly under high alert with the governor of Western Russia alerting parents in a televised speech.
Unfortunately, the reach of the online group spread to the US and the world claiming two supposedly linked deaths in the US, which includes one in GA. In all these cases, parents and investigators found posts of whales on social media and other whale drawings by the teenagers shortly before their deaths.
In November 2016, Philipp Budeikin, a 21-year-old former psychology student and musician with a love for computers and social media was arrested for creating the game and using malicious tactics to pressure teenagers into committing suicide. He mentioned that he had created the game back in 2013 and called it “f57” after his first initial and the last two digits of his phone number.
This morbid story spawned speculations stating 130 deaths in total mainly in Russia and possibly more with parents finding after the fact that their dead teenagers were part of one of the online groups or found postings of whales or whale drawings.
Some people have since challenged how we could truly assert the cause of suicides and link them to this phenomenon without a doubt. This could be another chicken or the egg paradox: were the teenagers engaged in those online groups because they were struggling with depression and were susceptible and drawn to the rhetoric or did the rhetoric truly turned them suicidal without any previous tendencies?
All in all, it is hard to differentiate between fact and fiction and a Russian professor, Alexandra Arkhipova, after studying the groups, found that most protagonists were kids and not adults trying to manipulate teenagers. She also found that several copycats were created since the original story.
So, who was truly Philipp Budeikin, the 21-year-old self-proclaimed creator of the original group? Since then, all but one charge against him collapsed and he was declared to have tried to exploit a viral story to draw attention to himself to benefit his musical aspirations. It has apparently been a common practice in Russia to associate with a popular online group and post shocking content to draw attention in an attempt to boost user engagement.
Beyond the complexity and confusion in trying to gage between truth and fiction lies the sinister truth that teenagers around the world could be vulnerable to this kind of rhetoric and that the Russian society, in particular, has a high suicidal rate especially among teenagers.
The true moral of the story, Blue Whale Challenge or not, is to stay connected and engaged with your children, know their world, their friends, and their online connections!