School districts across the country are warning parents about a viral suicide “game” called the Blue Whale Challenge that has claimed a lot of attention on social media.
The challenge reportedly encourages teenagers to complete daily tasks - such as watching a horror movie, staying up late or self-harming - over a 50-day period before they’re told to commit suicide.
According to Computerworld, Blue Whale first showed up in Russia and India last year. Reports of kids killing themselves because of it are largely unconfirmed, which leads some to believe it’s nothing more than urban legend.
But media, school officials and law enforcement officials around the world are paying heed.
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The challenge first appeared as a phone app, that could not be uninstalled, that hacked users’ personal information.
“Vulnerable young people are the targets for Blue Whale,” reported Computerworld. “In the Blue Whale Challenge, a group administrator – also referenced as a mentor or master – gives a young person a task to complete each day for 50 days.
“If a person balks at the daily task, then the personal information which was stolen is used as a form of blackmail as in do this or else your private information will be released or your family threatened. The task on the last day is to commit suicide. This is supposedly winning the game.”
The app has reportedly been removed from Apple’s iOS store and the Google Play store, but kids are said to still be playing it on social media outlets including Snapchat.
Instagram has posted a warning to those who search for #bluewhalechallenge.
“Can we help,” reads the advisory. “Posts with words or tags you’re searching for often encourage behavior that can cause harm and even lead to death. If you’re going through something difficult, we’d like to help.”
British media have been reporting on kids there taking the challenge and UK police have warned parents about teenage participation.
The BBC reported that one of the administrators of the deadly game in Russia pleaded guilty this week to inciting at least 16 teenage girls to kill themselves.
Philipp Budeikin, 21, told Russian press his victims were “biological waste” and he was “cleansing society,” the BBC reported.
Budeikin might not be the only organizer and authorities are looking for others reportedly connected to it.
Though much about the challenge is shrouded in mystery, school officials in the United States are taking it seriously enough to warn parents about it.
This week, officials with Baldwin County schools in Alabama posted a warning on the district’s Facebook page after two students told them about the challenge.
“Anything that could be a potential harm or danger to students we want to put that out so parents can be aware of it as well,” school system safety supervisor Anthony Sampson told WKRG in Mobile, Ala.
“We just pushed that out as a precautionary measure, but there is nothing that has been confirmed going on our campuses.”
Denver Public Schools have alerted parents, too, though there have been no reports of students there participating.
Denver school officials told Fox 31 in Denver that they sent a letter about the challenge to one school that requested it and will make the letter available to other schools that want to share it with parents.
School districts in Rhode Island and Massachusetts have also sent warning letters home to parents, WLNE in Providence, R.I., reported.
Referring to it as a “potentially deadly game,” a letter this week to parents from the superintendent of public schools in Cranston, R.I. read, in part: “The ‘Blue Whale Challenge’ is a challenge posted on social media to harm yourself for 50 days, resulting in suicide. Teenagers are supposed to tag each other on social media, primarily SnapChat, and then challenge each other to participate in this dangerous ‘game.’
“Please be aware of inappropriate social media use that could be occurring outside of school. We encourage you to talk with you child(ren) about appropriate and safe use of technology and social media.”
Aileen McDonough, a parent in Cranston, R.I., told WLNE the Blue Whale challenge scares her.
“We feel fear,” McDonough told the TV station. “We want so badly to protect our children, and to know that there's something like this out there … and there's basically someone that's targeting our children, especially when they're most vulnerable, is really scary for parents.
“I think that it’s evil. It’s pure evil. Hopefully this will go away, but that doesn't mean that the next big thing isn't right around the corner that we have to watch for.”