Why the lack of understanding about the Blue Whale Challenge poses a bigger threat?
On 30 August, Vignesh A, a 19-year-old college student from Madurai committed suicide. Indications of self-harm on his body swaying investigating agencies to suspect that the suicide was related to the Blue Whale challenge-an online game which involves completing 50 tasks or challenges dictated by a remote 'handler' which ultimately leads to ending their own life.
Though investigating agencies in India are yet to determine the exact cause of Vignesh's fateful decision, the lack of understanding may have caused the former to pass it off as related to the sinister challenge, online experts and child psychologists say.
The game believed to have its origins in Russia (originally known as Siniy Kit-Blue Whale in English) is suspected to have claimed the lives of many youngsters globally and spreading fast in the virtual space. But experts say that misinformation on the challenge is spreading faster.
The information or lack of it
Experts point out to a recent incident. On Monday, the Tamil Nadu government told the Madras High Court that "Blue Whale Challenge cannot be downloaded since all links to the game were blocked."
"First of all, one does not require a 'link' to play the Blue Whale game. It can be played on any communication medium, say Whatsapp, Telegram, Facebook messenger, Skype, word of mouth for all you know," said Udbhav Tiwari, a researcher and Policy Officer at The Centre for Internet and Society-a research and advocacy group. He believes that it is virtually impossible to identify or block the game.
The first possible reference to the game was in Russia after a mother investigated her 12-year-old daughter's online activity after she killed herself around mid last year, Bloomberg reported on 25 April. But references to "death groups" was a fact established by a local journalist, later examined and results shared by multiple groups to determine and create awareness to avert further tragedies.
A suicide in Mumbai believed to be the first in India, purportedly a Blue Whale Challenge victim in Andheri is still under investigation.
The game itself
According to experts, youngsters who join certain online groups which may have bearing to the game, are spotted by 'curators'. They are first vetted, made to share personal information and later handed over 50 tasks which include waking up at early in the morning (some research says 4.20 am), watching horror movies alone, listening to deep breathing sounds and causing bodily harm like making cuts and incisions initially.
Online resources indicate that the challenge is to isolate the individual and making them susceptible for more sinister tasks ahead. Those seeking to back out are coerced into continuing with threats of uploading personal information on the deep web. At a later stage, there is a possibility of meeting with another participant to remove any doubts about continuing the game.
Netting the big fish
States like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal among others have issued advisories to parents, teachers and students on how to identify and whom to consult when you notice any of the behavioural changes among children. Anitha Desai, a child psychologist based in Bengaluru says that being able to identify the behavioural change is one of the key aspects to avert a tragedy.
"Seclusion, lack of interaction with family and friends, thoughts of running away from home and death, variation in eating and sleeping patterns, moodiness, lack of concentration, dipping interest in studies and falling grades are all the signs of a depressed child," she specifies. But she clarifies that only by indulging the child can the parent or guardian know the cause of the depression, not assuming.
While there have been several cases of 'death groups', 'death games' and 'suicide challenges' internationally, all of them, much like the Indian context, are conjectures, experts say. With only online information, multiple theories explaining various possibilities and versions, there exists very little verified information about the existence of such sinister games or challenges. News reports of such games and its consequences are also likely to mislead or make believe the possible existence of such challenges.
Few of us knew Vignesh. But only this teenager, with his whole life ahead of him, took this extreme step. The least we can do is educate ourselves.