Over 130 teen suicides in Russia have been connected to a new trend of macabre games on social media. Authorities fear the reported deaths are just a part of a national cultural phenomenon.
A recent report published by the newspaper Novaya Gazeta exposed a subculture of suicide among teens in Russia. Various groups in the country’s biggest social network VKontakte (VK) lure vulnerable teenagers into risky and grotesque challenges for likes or ad clicks.
This past month, the police linked the death of two schoolgirls to a sinister online game called ‘Blue Whale’, which dares teens to complete daily tasks for 50 days. At first, the demands are fairly innocuous, like watching horror films or waking up at unconventional hours, but as the game progresses, the tasks get creepier, involving self harm and ultimately suicide on the 50th day.
One of the victims, 15-year-old Yulia Konstantinova posted a photo of a blue whale on Instagram with the caption “End” before jumping off a roof. Reports said that two teenage boys were caught by the police at the scene after allegedly filming the double suicide.
Russia has the world’s third-highest number of suicides among adolescents and authorities fear the problem can become a national health problem.
Ren TV revealed an internal report by the FSB secret service which said that “the problem of provoking suicides among underage children via the internet is really serious.”
21-year-oldd Philipp Budeikin was detained last year charged after organising at least eight of these bizarre groups between 2013 and 2016.
“Almost all these children were members of the same internet groups and lived in good, happy families,” read the Novaya Gazeta report.
“We know absolutely for sure is that adults are working with children, with the help of knowledge of their habits and passions, using their favourite language and culture.”
“They know psychology well, they convince girls that they are ‘fat’, tell boys that they are ‘losers’ in this world. And that there is another world and they will be among the chosen.”
Despite the lengthy investigation by Novaya Gazeta, there is no official data to connect the blue whale challenge with the reported cases of teenage suicide.
On Twitter and Instagram, hashtags like #F57 #F58 #СИНИЙ КИТ (blue whale in Russian) bring up users discussing the game and the urban myths around it, but nothing that could prove the existence of organised crime rings connected to it.
According to the BBC, journalists from Radio Free Europe went undercover and actually managed to contact one of the curators behind these games. Things began to turn nasty when the game master asked the supposed teen to cut ‘F58’ into their arm. The station responded with a photoshopped image that didn’t convince the curators and they ended all contact.