Parents, the truth or dare-type games of your day have changed — and the new rules are deadly. If you haven't heard of the Blue Whale Challenge, get acquainted. Numerous teens from around the world, including two recently in the U.S., have taken their own lives in the grand finale of the online game.
A Texas father warned about the dangers of the game after his son hanged himself July 8. Jorge Gonzalez told a San Antonio television station that his son, Isaiah, was found hanging in his bedroom closet with his cellphone propped up on a shoe to record his death. A Georgia mother who asked to not be identified said said her 16-year-old daughter committed suicide within the same week as Isaiah after playing the game.
The Associated Press reported that participants are allegedly required to take pictures of their challenges being completed and share them before being directed to end their lives on the 50th day. A search of related hashtags on Instagram shows users posting pictures of scars and cuts or memes that depict suicide, and a similar Twitter search shows users reaching out for game administrators to lead them through the challenges.
So how are so many teens being led to their deaths by playing this game? Isaiah's sister, Alexis, told the TV station that a person behind the challenge had gathered personal information from her brother and had threatened to harm the family.
I checked out the Blue Whale Challenge hashtags on Instagram and the photos posted are alarming. Instagram warns that some images tagged under some of the related phrases could be harmful and directs users to mental health resources. Twitter assesses reports of self-harm or suicide and also directs users to mental health or suicide-prevention resources. But bypassing the warnings requires simply choosing the option to proceed.
The game is reportedly available on various social media platforms and teens play by reaching out to game administrators called curators. The curators then lead the players through 50 days of challenges including watching scary movie clips, cutting symbols into their arms and legs and taking pictures of themselves in dangerous positions such as on the edge of a roof or on train tracks, according to the AP.
"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," the Instagram warning says. The options are to get support, see posts anyway or cancel.
The posts I saw include girls with multiple cuts on their arms, a young man about to jump from a high rocky ledge into the ocean and several memes and tattoos. The name of the game alludes to the fact beached whales will die. -- or certainly, they will without intervention.
If you have children and are unaware of this dangerous game, I encourage you to get informed and have some frank discussions with them. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, has tracked reports of where incidents connected to the challenge have occurred. Multiple news reports exist. The deaths dot the globe. The game is believed to have originated in Russia, where 16 young people have died.
The school year will begin soon. Perhaps, a note to parents from school officials and an information session directing students to where they can receive help would be beneficial. And if schools already have been proactive, certainly, repetition won't hurt given the deadly topic.
Shea Wilson is the former managing editor of the El Dorado News-Times. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sheawilson7.