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Sunday Mornings with Rania: The Blue Whale Challenge

Have you heard of the Blue Whale Challenge? Some call it a myth, others a grave reality. All we know is that the number of teen lives lost with linkages to this “game” is growing, the most recent being 15-year-old San Antonio high school student Isaiah Gonzalez. Isaiah was found hanging in his bedroom closet, his cell phone propped up to record his death. According to his father, Jorge Gonzalez, his death was a direct result of Blue Whale and he wants everyone to be aware.

Isaiah’s suicide is devastating. Nationally, law enforcement, joined by school educators and parents, are expressing concerns about the challenge as teens from Russia, Brazil and a half dozen other countries, including the USA, have lost their lives as a result of this illusive, underground game.

What it is:

Here’s what we know. The Blue Whale Challenge is a 50-day internet dare or obstacle course filled with daily tasks that encourages participants (mainly teens to young adults) to do things that range from watching horror films to self-mutilation. During the course of the game, players must take photos or videos of themselves confirming their completion of dangerous tasks, which escalate to the climax of suicide on the 50th day. According to the Washington Post, people interested in playing Blue Whale will post on social media and ask for a “curator.” That person, a complete stranger, then assigns the user 50 tasks to complete daily.

Where it came from:

The origin of the game and the inner workings of the game have left many shaking their heads. Some believe it started in Russia two years ago and is found deep within Facebook and Instagram; others say predators contact potential victims through cellphone apps and chat rooms.

According to Baldwin County Public School System in Alabama, reports have surfaced that claim that once teens start, the curator threatens them with harm to their families or with releasing personal information if the teens choose to stop participating. In Isaiah’s case, his sister noted that Isaiah’s curator had gathered personal information from Isaiah and had, in fact, threatened him and his family if Isaiah chose to walk away from the challenge.

What Now:

We must all be aware of this potential danger these online platforms are creating for our children. Facebook, aware of the increasing number of suicides broadcast on Facebook Live for example, recently announced that it will add 3,000 workers over the next year to monitor suicides and other live, violent videos.

While other factors are usually in play (like emotional and mental issues and substance abuse that make teens less able to cope with stress), the onset of social media pressures to engage in dangerous and risky behavior poses threats that are new and very disturbing. At this point, the risks and potential dangers cannot be ignored. Consider the following;

  • Talk, talk and talk again to your teens about these potential risks and dangerous. Use real stories in an age-appropriate manner.
  • Limit access to social media in general and limit the number of platforms they engage with.
  • Don’t allow phones, computers, tablets or other electronics in the bedroom.
  • Maintain access to your children’s accounts and be aware of the latest trends (do you know what hidden apps are and how to find them on your children’s electronics?)
  • Talk about real threats vs. perceived threats. For example, if a teen is threatened that they or their family will be harmed, make sure they know they can share this threat with you and that you have the power and the ability to keep them safe. Walk them through how you and law enforcement can protect them and that many threats are in fact empty.
  • Be especially aware and on top of social media use and engagement among students with emotional issues or increased anxiety.
  • Remind teens that they can always tell you everything, always, at any time, no matter what they have already done or what choices (good or bad) they have already made. Their lives are more important than anything else.

Every day we do everything we can to keep our kids safe. Being aware of any and all online risks is just another step we take to proactively protect those we love. In this day and age, we simply have no choice. I love my kids; I love yours too. Working together, we can keep each other safe.

If you or anyone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to speak with a crisis worker.

Posted by Rania Mankarious on 16 Jul 2017

About the author

Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Houston