Over the last few months, the seemingly innocuous words “Blue Whale” have started to terrify parents around the world. In Russia, Blue Whale headlines have become an almost daily occurrence: young teens being manipulated into committing suicide through taking part in a disturbing social media game publicized by Russian-language hashtags including “Blue Whale”, “Wake me up at 4:20” and “F58”. According to some reports, the toll in Russia could have exceeded 130 associated fatalities by now, since the online ‘craze’ began in 2015.
Recently, though, this latest social media obsession seems to have spread further a field, with authorities across continents being alerted to multiple cases of teen suicide, all apparently bearing an alarming link to the online game. Considering the news of two related deaths in Brazil in the last couple of weeks and others in Chile and Uruguay, it began to seem like only a matter of time before Argentina would face its own tragedy of the kind.
Sure enough, the country’s first connected incident transpired in the early hours of yesterday morning in Argentina’s San Juan province. A 14-year-old boy is now fighting for his life in intensive care, after posting about his participation in the Blue Whale challenge on Whatsapp and then consuming a packet of pills belonging to his mother.
According to the local press, the teenager, whose identity has not been revealed, was taken to Hospital Rawson unconscious on Tuesday morning, due to a massive intake of pills intended for pancreatic illness.
Still reeling from their personal heartbreak, it was the boy’s own family who, from his bedside in the intensive care unit, have confirmed his apparent participation in the troubling game. From his own Whatsapp status updates, which read “Playing the Blue Whale Game” and “Goodbye, all. I love you” and which his brothers have since published on Facebook, the 14-year-old seems to have been involved in the 50-step challenge that sets out tasks for its participants, ranging from watching horror movies, self-harming to eventually committing suicide.
Speaking to local paper Tiempo de San Juan, Mónica, his mother, described how she was shocked to find her son pale and unresponsive when she went to wake him up for school in the morning. She added: “I knew that the game existed, but I never imagined that he would do a thing like that. When we heard about it, his father and I told him to be careful because it was very dangerous. He told me, ‘Mami, I would never play that – it’s satanic.’”
The family explained that the teen had always seemed happy and content, even eating dinner with them as normal the previous evening, and there was no palpable reason why he would have been driven to do what he did, apart from his participation in the Blue Whale online phenomenon. The case is yet another worrying insight into the vulnerability of young people before the fast growing influence of social media in this technological era.
The game’s alleged creator, Phillip Budeykin, who was reportedly known online as “The Fox”, was arrested late last year in Russia for inciting children to commit suicide, with 15 victims listed. During his detainment he macabrely acknowledged his involvement: “Yes, I did it… They died happy. I gave them what they didn’t have in real life: warmth, understanding and communication.” He also claimed that he created the groups to “clean the world of bio-waste.” As of May 2017, Budeykin is in a pre-trial prison.
Reacting to Argentina’s first alleged incident, health authorities in the province of San Juan held an emergency meeting yesterday to discuss the issue. Specialists from the ministries of Education, Health and Human Development drew up an action plan to try to prevent such acts from happening again in the region.
“In general, when we receive reports of cases of self-harm, we intervene individually with the young person and their family. But given the seriousness of this situation and the fact that we do not know what its scope is, we have to work on the subject in a global and urgent way,” Mónica Gutiérrez, the director of the Office of Education, explained on Radio Sarmiento.
Action has also been taken in other parts of the world, including police warnings. VK, the social media site popular in Russia on which the game was first spread, has also been making attempts to shut down pages that might inspire suicide. Speaking to Buzzfeed News last month, a spokesperson also confirmed that VK is developing an algorithm to automatically block this kind of content.
Meanwhile, social media users have also been taking things into their own hands by creating reactionary groups and variations on the Blue Whale game. In Brazil, one Facebook user, a graphic designer and publicist, created a page called “Pink Whale” (Baleia Rosa), which now has almost 280 thousands likes and sets positive tasks for its followers. The page’s description reads: “We believe that everyone has the ability to help others and encourage the good. Share the #eusoubaleiarosa (#iampinkwhale)”
— Baleia Rosa (@eusoubaleiarosa) April 17, 2017
Don’t use negative words for a whole day.
If you are feeling at risk of suicide or if you are worried about someone else, here are some hotlines in Argentina: + 54 (0) 22 3493 0430 (The Samaritans) or + 54 (11) 4758 2554 (Centro de Atención al Familiar del Suicida)