The Blue Whale game has been causing quite a stir in the country recently, with a number of teen suicides being linked to the morbid social media phenomenon. This has understandably sent the authorities as well as parents and schools into panic mode, resulting in calls for bans on the game and its links.
TNM’s Dhanya Rajendran and Geetika Mantri spoke to Centre for Internet and Society’s Policy Officer Udhbav Tiwari about the Blue Whale game, whether banning it would help and what parents and guardians can do to protect their children.
You cannot ban the Blue Whale game
Despite many reports about teens allegedly playing the game, Udbhav said that it was difficult to figure out what the Blue Whale game is. “It is not an app you can download on your phone or your computer. It is a game you can play over any medium that allows personal communication. It could be email, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype… any means which allows you to communicate with individuals in a group setting,” he explained.
Due to the nature of the media used for playing the Blue Whale game, it is very difficult to ban it. “Because of how pervasive social media is, any attempt to curtail it is going to cause more harm than good,” he argued.
Udbhav also pointed out that while the suicide game has been documented in over 50 countries, it is not necessary that it is being played in India in the same way.
Taking the example of the Madurai teen’s suicide, Udbhav said that there was a possibility that the game may not have been a result of an interaction between a curator and the teen, but simply something that drew the fancy of curious or troubled children.
“For instance, in the case of the Madurai teen, it could be a group of people from Madurai, or a group of children from the child’s school who decided to play the game because they found the idea attractive. It is important to see the context in which the game is being played to understand it,” Udbhav said.
19-year-old Vignesh committed suicide and hung himself in his Madurai home on Wednesday. The shape of a blue whale was found cut into his arm. He had also drawn the blue whale in the bathroom with a cleaning liquid.
“There is no way to control or ban the Blue Whale game itself; you can only control how much time children are spending on their computers or mobile devices. That is the only way to see what they are doing in the internet, and then preventing them from harming themselves,” Udbhav maintained.
Talking about the various arrests of Blue Whale administrators and curators that have happened in the world, Udbhav said that it was very difficult to trace the game back to one person. He explained that since it was an online phenomenon, it goes through a lot of alterations based on the context and culture.
“We should therefore focus energies to ensure that children are not attracted to the game. This will ensure that it dies a natural death, instead of going after one person which the many governments are trying to do,” he stated.
If the Blue Whale game is so dangerous, should we be talking about it at all?
Some people argue that the reportage on the Blue Whale game is making it a sensationalist concept, and drawing more attention to it.
Udbhav says that while there has been sensationalist reporting by the media, removing it from the narrative would not help.
“There has been some sensationalist reporting in the media. For instance, using the image of the blue whale cut into an arm. That may actually end up attracting children. They may get lured by the morbid nature of the game. Young people also tend to have an excitement when it comes to violence because of general social urges,” he explained.
“But the media must not stop reporting about Blue Whale game and must encourage discussions in safe spaces such as homes and schools. Because these are the places where vulnerable teens are there,” Udbhav added.
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Have a conversation
TNM has pointed out previously that teens who get involved in the Blue Whale game are likely to be undergoing a depressive episode or facing some form of mental pressure in real life. This leads them to take refuge in the online world. Playing the 50-step Blue Whale challenge may make them believe they are playing a game when in reality, they are dealing with mental health issues.
Udbhav agrees that the solution to helping children or preventing them from being drawn into such activities is to speak to them openly.
“The only real way to find out what such young adults are sad about and prevent them from carrying out the steps of the Blue Whale game is to give them counselling. Whether this happens with parents, with counsellors at schools or psychiatrists is completely up to the parents and other adults in the child’s life to realise,” he said.
He points out that children who are depressed exhibit some signs which parents and caretakers can look out for. The teens could be keeping to themselves excessively, avoiding friends and family and so on. “Parents and schools should look out for these signs and then treat them as they would any other illness instead of perpetuating the stigma associated with mental illness,” Udbhav advised.
Parental controls can help only if used to monitor
The panic created by the Blue Whale Challenge has led to many questioning whether teens should be given access to phones, mobile devices and the internet at all. While the focus on mental health is important, Udbhav says that there are some safeguards parents can use to protect children from coming in contact with such a suicide game.
He points out that there are antiviruses and parental blocks that can be used to monitor a child’s activity on the internet, or how much time they are spending online. However, he warns that parents must be careful about monitoring, rather than curtailing a child’s online behaviour.
“There is a difference between the access you should give to a 12-year-old and the freedom you allow for a 16-year-old on the internet. It also depends on the maturity of the teen to navigate through online content,” Udbhav says.
“Parents must look out for behavioural changes. For instance, is the child spending much more time on the phone than before? If the quantity of data being consumed between say 1am and 2am is more than in the rest of the day, then that is something to look out for,” he adds.