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Online game Blue Whale Challenge suspected behind 15-year-old Texan’s suicide

July 14, 2017 0 Comments

Parents of a Texas teenager who committed suicide on July 8, 2017 are blaming their son’s death on a gruesome online game “Blue Whale Challenge,” which targets vulnerable teens and young adults by connecting with them on social media platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. The 15-year-old, Isaiah Gonzalez, was found hanging in his bedroom closet by his father on Saturday morning. The boy’s smartphone, propped up on a shoe, was used by him to record the suicide and live-stream it on social media.

The people behind “Blue Whale Challenge” are suspected to be a group of secretive administrators (called curators) who reportedly call upon participants to complete a series of progressively dangerous tasks over 50 days, ranging from watching horror movies and drinking bleach to inflicting self-injury. Participants also need to send photographs to administrators as proof of completing the tasks. The final task is the most sinister and fatal – to kill themselves in order to win.

After Isaiah’s death, his parents scanned their son’s social media accounts and interactions with friends which disclosed photos and communication confirming his participation in the game. However, the San Antonio Police Department does not mention the challenge in their report. Authorities are cynical regarding the game’s existence due to absence of direct evidence.

The game is played mainly via VKontakte, a popular social networking platform in Russia, and finds participants as young as 12 years through “death groups” or “suicide groups” formed on the website. Across the United States, educators, law enforcement officers and parents have reported rumors about “Blue Whale Challenge” for several months; Isaiah’s suicide is one among two back-to-back tragic deaths including that of a 16-year-old girl in Georgia.

Psychological manipulation of users

Although the game has mostly been popular in Russia and Central Asian countries, its spreading to the U.K. and other parts of Europe. It is believed that 130 children in Russia have committed suicide due to the challenge. Oleg Kapaev, a 20-year-old Russian, nearly killed himself following his participation in the game. Kapaev’s parents saved him from jumping off a Moscow high-rise after going through his suicidal comments on social media and discovering plane tickets to Moscow to “complete the task”.

Kapaev’s boredom, curiosity and skepticism lured him to find the game. After getting hooked, he found himself being psychologically manipulated by the administrators. Kapaev admits that the experience, which is very professionally managed, turned him into somewhat of a “zombie”. When he was called out for being a better “player” and given task number nine to jump off a 20-storeyed building in Moscow, Kapaev had been influenced to such an extent that he considered it as just another “task” which he needed to finish; he did not think of it as a need to kill himself.

Need to sensitize children on using social media judiciously

Dr. Jane Pearson of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) underscores the importance of parents in sensitizing their children on using social media judiciously. She explains that social media trends are constantly evolving, and rather than controlling every aspect, parents should improve social media literacy among kids. Isaiah’s father expresses similar sentiments and urges parents to go through their children’s phones and social media sites to prevent their participation in the online challenge.

Schools and law enforcement agencies are also playing their part in educating parents. School superintendents are sending notes to parents highlighting the dangers of the online game and urging them to keep a watch on their children’s online activities. The Miami Police Department has posted a “Social Media 101” video on Facebook which is directly targeted at the “Blue Whale Challenge.”

White River Academy, one of the best boarding schools for troubled children, is a therapeutic residential center for adolescent boys aged 13 to 17. The specialists here can help in the rehabilitation of mentally distressed youngsters and prevent instances of suicide. If your teenage boy is exhibiting symptoms of stress and disorientation, contact our 24/7 helpline or chat online to get more information.

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