India blocks Russian social network VK over Blue Whale ‘suicide game’ threat

12 Sep, 2017 23:56 / Updated 3 years ago
The Russian social network VKontakte has been temporarily blocked by several leading Indian internet providers over suspicion some groups there might be promoting the notorious Blue Whale ‘suicide game’ that has been blamed for a spate of teen deaths.

“We are taking several multi-dimensional ways of containing the Blue Whale threat in India,” said information technology ministry official Ajay Kumar, according to Times of India.

“VKontakte has been blocked temporarily. We understand that it has been used for Blue Whale in the past, and are trying to ascertain its current usage. Law enforcement agencies are investigating the suspected cases of Blue Whale suicides and the modus operandi.”

The decision follows a series of police warnings, daily media stories and even a Madras High Court ruling calling on foreign companies to comply with Indian law so as to make it easier for local agencies to root out the menace.

Blue Whale first surfaced in 2013 in groups for suicidal teens on VKontakte. The game allegedly instructs participants to complete a series of tasks set by shadowy “curators.” It varies between the routine, such as listening to 'dark' songs or getting up in the middle of the night, to increasingly macabre and self-harming practices, allegedly culminating in the supervisor demanding the player to take their own life.

An investigative article sparked widespread interest four years ago, and ever since, heated public debate has raged whether it is a genuine phenomenon responsible for as many as 130 suicides, or a borderline urban myth or meme spread by a hungry media, gullible teens, and parents afraid of their children’s internet habits.

Two people have been arrested in connection the 'game,' though little evidence exists of it being systematically played by any communities or even specific victims. Blue Whale online groups though, have attracted teens who have subsequently killed themselves.

Blue Whale coverage in India has followed the pattern seen in dozens of other countries over the past four years.

A single teen death at the end of July was linked to the phenomenon by a news report that quickly went viral. Although police subsequently denied any connection between the death of the 14 year-old Mumbai boy and the game, dozens of suicides, and even accidental deaths have been blamed on it, despite similar denials from the authorities, often delivered days after the story has moved on. Many news reports seem to be under the impression that Blue Whale is similar to an app game that can be downloaded and “played” on a smartphone.

Attracted by the coverage, teens in schools have started to pass around rumors of people playing the game, forcing several facilities to ban cell phones. On Tuesday, a school in Delhi cancelled classes after police was called out when a boy drew a blue whale on his arm with a biro.

Although links with Blue Whale remain largely unproven, India's national statistics indicate that 5,000 children up to the age of 14 commit suicide in the country each year, with India having a higher than average overall suicide rate.

In Russia, one of the ‘Blue Whale’ curators, 22-year-old Filipp Budeykin, was found guilty of inciting teenagers to commit suicide and was sentenced to more than three years behind bars. While only two cases were proven, initially he was suspected of making 15 attempts to take youngsters’ lives.

READ MORE: British police & schools issue warning over 'Blue Whale' social media ‘suicide game’

The dangerous challenge rose to an international scale, after victims of the group were reportedly found in the US, Spain, Serbia, Brazil, Chile, China and India, among others. The deadly challenge may have reached the UK as well. In April, several British schools issued warnings to parents over ‘Blue Whale,’ calling on them “to be vigilant and monitor children's internet usage.”