If your child has the Blue Whale Challenge on their phone, you need to delete it.
There are instances when the online world, for all its benefits, gets dark and disturbing and this is one of them.
Many young people live most of their lives online or on tech and they can become so embroiled in this virtual reality that it affects their real lives.
An online social media group is said to be behind the craze, goading teens into taking their own lives.
Police in Russia, where the game is said to have originated, are investigating the deaths of numerous teens and whether they are linked to the disturbing social media group.
Investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported: “We have counted 130 suicides of children that took place between November 2015 and April 2016. Almost all these children were members of the same internet groups and lived in good, happy families.”
Russian schoolgirl Yulia Konstantinova, 15, fell to her death from a 14-storey building after posting a cryptic picture of a blue whale on Instagram shortly before jumping. Two days prior, a 14-year-old girl was reported to have thrown herself under a train, also in Russia.
A quick Google search of the Blue Whale game brings up similar cases, all bearing the same sinister resemblance. It all starts out as a harmless game, as a group administrator assigns daily tasks to members which they must complete over 50 days.
But the tasks are shocking and include anything from self-harming, watching horror movies to waking up at unusual hours. They become more extreme as the 50th day approaches. On the final day, the manipulators behind the game reportedly instruct youngsters to commit suicide.
Cassey Chambers, operations director at the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), says thus far the organisation hasn’t heard of any cases nationally but it is keeping its ears to the ground. “I’m hoping it doesn’t pick up in SA, but unfortunately online campaigns like this can go viral so quickly,” she adds.
Child rights consultant Joan van Niekerk found it "gobsmacking" that youngsters would let themselves be led astray by complete strangers, saying: “This is really appalling – and obviously aimed at those children who are vulnerable in some way.”
One might also bring into question the authenticity of the game, with many arguing that it could be a hoax. Verification website www.wusa9.com decided to investigate further after a flood of e-mails from online users asked if it was real. They reported that “the challenge is believed to have resulted in deaths both in Russia and in Spain, but we cannot independently verify those reports."
Whether the game is real or not, Sadag has urged parents to be vigilant and to look out for the warning signs of suicide:
– Talking or joking about suicide.
– Preparing for death.
– Changes in personality.
– Loss of interest in appearance or hygiene.
– It is also imperative to monitor your child’s online activities.