This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Aarambh India. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

How Media Frenzy Around Blue Whale Takes Attention Away From Teen Suicides

More from Aarambh India

A quick Google search for news related to the phrase ‘Blue Whale Challenge’ returns new results every time. Either a new case has been reported or someone is calling for the game to be banned or for the need for more awareness or some safety tips. But all you can see are the words ‘blue whale challenge’ and ‘suicide’ staring right at you. Scary, isn’t it?

The news convinces you that you cannot understand the Blue Whale Challenge, that it is beyond your control. You can try saving your kids by keeping their online activities under constant surveillance. But that’s just wishful thinking.

To sum up the media reporting, here’s the clear message – fear the blue whale. And they have even managed to convince the government that it is one of the most pressing issues of our time.

What Is The Blue Whale Challenge?

The ‘Blue Whale Challenge‘ is an internet game that was first seen in an online group on the Russian social media network called VKontakte (VK). It is not a ‘video game’ in the common sense of the word. Rather it seems to be a text-based game with elements of extreme role play. This means that it can be played over any communication network. For example, the administrator emails/texts/WhatsApps a particular task (from cutting yourself to listening to a song) to the user. The user completes the task and sends the report or evidence back to the administrator. The instructions are followed over the course of 50 days.

Within this Blue Whale VK group, the administrators would first allegedly ask the interested user to hand over their personal information in order to start the game. Then they would supposedly assign a series of increasingly dangerous and disturbing acts culminating in a final act which asks the user to commit suicide on the 50th day. It is alleged that the personal information handed over to the administrator is used by them to exercise control over the user, preventing them from leaving the game.

How Many Verified Suicides Have Been Caused by The Blue Whale Challenge So Far?

There have aren’t been any confirmed suicides as a result of the Blue Whale Challenge. However, there have been links drawn to it in several cases.

What Proof Do We Have That The Blue Whale Challenge Exists?

VK has been deleting accounts and groups that have “content that justifies suicide”.

Considering that deleting a page has never solved a problem on the internet, one could speculate that the suicide groups may have found a more secure and untraceable part of the internet to operate out of.

There are a lot of unverified claims, photo-shaped imagery, unreliable translations and internet creepypasta (an inventive genre of horror legends & stories that uses the medium of the internet) associated with the Blue Whale Challenge because it’s so untraceable.

Why We Shouldn’t Fear The Blue Whale

Misrepresentation of a May 2016 story from the Russian site Novaya Gazeta started this entire frenzy around the game. The article reported that from November 2015 to April 2016 dozens of children had committed suicide and almost all of them belonged to the same online game community on However, an investigation by Radio Free Europe found that no suicides had been definitively linked to these online communities. The Novaya Gazeta report was highly criticised for concluding that a social media game was promoting teenagers to take their life.

Some cases in India have also been linked to the Blue Whale Challenge but none of them have been verified so far. The only credible platforms that seem to un-ironically carry reports on the Blue Whale Challenge are unfortunately Indian news portals. And this, in turn, is ending up giving credibility to the rumours and legends itself.

Why Should We Caution Children Against The Indian Media’s Reporting Of The Blue Whale Challenge?

According to this report from the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention, suicide contagion or “Copycat Suicide” occurs when one or more suicides are reported in a way that contributes to another suicide.

It also says that:

Research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals.

The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration and prominence of coverage.

Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/ graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death.

Suicide is a public health issue. Media and online coverage of suicide should be informed by using best practices. Some suicide deaths may be newsworthy. However, the way media cover suicide can influence behaviour negatively by contributing to contagion or positively by encouraging help-seeking.

In reporting the Blue Whale Challenge, the Indian media has clearly missed the mark at both avoiding misinformation and promoting hope. Rather the approach has been to pile on allusions until the reader felt overwhelmed and lost a sense of control all the while irresponsibly risking the possibility of instigating copycat behaviour among impressionable teens, whose mental health may be at risk. If there is anything to fear on this scenario, it’s the media reportage.

What Is The Government’s Response?

As the media is piling on the reports, all the state governments are reacting. The promptness of the reaction is reassuring, but the measures taken leave a lot to be desired. Take this one – the Gujarat government has announced a cash reward of ₹ 1 lakh to those providing information about the “administrators and curators” of the Blue Whale Challenge. Meanwhile, other state governments have either issued advisories or directives regarding it. And it’s not just the government. The education department in Lucknow has banned the use of smart phones by children in school in a bid to keep them away from the game.

The government has ordered a few social media platforms including Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Microsoft and Yahoo to take down Blue Whale related content. This well-meaning order reveals a misunderstanding of the phenomenon.

Anything that is promoting or inciting suicide will be taken off most of these platforms as per their safety policies, so the order does not really add anything new to the existing systems. In the case of an encrypted Over The Top (OTT) messaging app like WhatsApp, content takedown by a third party is not something that can be done.

Also, the order limits the internet to just five platforms. This makes these platforms seem quasi-safe zones while the activity that is being tracked down, shifts elsewhere.

Also as mentioned earlier, the Blue Whale Challenge as it is being described, is a text based game that can be played over SMS in a very basic phone. The order makes no attempts to address even the alleged nature of the issue.

In failing to address suicide as a mental health issue, the government and the media have not come through for Indian children. It could have engaged in a much-needed conversation on teenage suicide.

What Should Parents Do?

Now thanks to the media, your child probably knows about the Blue Whale Challenge. A conversation around online safety and mental health would be good and reinforce the fact that if anything were to ever go wrong in any online or offline space, you are there for them, that you will not judge them and that they can always talk to you.

What parents need to remember is to not be afraid. You are in control and you will be able to protect your children.

You must be to comment.

More from Aarambh India

Similar Posts

By AgentsofIshq

By Zemima Khan

By Mrittunjoy Guha Majumdar

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below