Last week, a school teacher from Rajasthan became something of a hero for saving the life of a child who was reportedly playing the “Blue Whale” challenge, after overhearing him speak about it.
In their enthusiasm to report on this, the media has revealed the boy’s location, the name of his school, and his age, making it easy for anyone who is interested in tracing him to do so.
Since news of the Blue Whale challenge began to percolate into the media, our focus has been mainly on the victims. While schools, psychiatrists, parents, law authorities, and the government itself are discussing ways to counsel victims and trying to block access to the “Blue Whale” challenge, there seems to be no active effort to trace the perpetrators.
For the longest time, there was a debate in the media about whether the challenge was real or a hoax. But even as some articles are being discredited, the existence of the challenge is deemed unverified, there have been reports of teen suicides in eighteen countries, all believed to be linked to the game.
Last year, 22-year-old Philipp Budeikin from Russia, who was expelled from a psychology course, claimed to have invented the challenge, and was later sentenced to three years in prison for inciting suicide.
But, even if he is the creator and even if he is in prison now, the “game” continues to be played and to claim lives.
What we are forgetting is that it does not matter whether the game was originally a hoax. It feeds into the insecurities of a vulnerable group, and feeds into the fantasies of a different group. It is not easy to stop such a phenomenon, and we cannot do it simply by focusing on the first. Is it not only the victims, but the perpetrators who need to be found.
While various governments have been trying to remove all links which relate to the “game”, and any search for the Blue Whale challenge also throws up helpline numbers and anxious enquiries about whether one is playing the game, Google’s search-based suggestions reveal a chilling truth.
When I typed “Blue Whale”, the first option which popped up related to how one could access the game in the vernacular, followed by “how to escape”, “how many death” [sic.], “how to draw”, and “how to stop”.
If this shows that a large number of people are more interested in accessing the challenge than trying to learn about it, the search results themselves are frightening. One does not need to access the dark net to be pulled into the challenge. Mainstream media outlets and websites have detailed the various steps involved in it, making it easy for anyone to pretend to be an “administrator” offering the “authentic” version of the game to a prospective victim.
In a country where parents and educational institutes constantly infantilise teenagers, setting curfews, monitoring their social media activity, and spying on them in various ways, it seems strange that we are not able to get our heads around the idea that teenagers, and even children, can be perpetrators and not victims.
That is the reason bullying in schools, ragging in colleges, and peer-instigated suicides persist in such large numbers. When we talk about child sexual abuse and rape, we tend to take only adult perpetrators into consideration.
The fact is, children are often abused by older children; they are bullied by peers.
The fact is sociopathic adults were likely to have been sociopathic children.
The fact is most of us were bullied at some point in our lives for being different – too short, too tall, too dark, too fair, too fat, too thin, too hairy, too acne-prone. And it went beyond the physical – if you were bright, you were called the “teacher’s pet”; if you did poorly in exams, you were called a dunce. Through our teen years, and even beyond, our peers prey on various fears – of insects, of ghosts, of failure.
The Blue Whale challenge has been advertised as a game structured to draw a vulnerable target in by ostensibly removing fear. The final stage of the game involves a “win” by committing suicide.
But what about the effect it has on the player who is still alive – the “administrator”? What must it feel like to have evidence that one’s perverse instructions are being followed voluntarily, and then followed from terror of blackmail, over fifty days? We need to look at the sense of achievement and power someone – possibly a teenager or young adult – could feel in knowing that he or she had been controlling the life and death of a peer; we need to look at the thrill that this person could feel in knowing he or she had got away with murder, committed remotely.
We live in a world where children burn puppies alive because they can.
While parents are constantly on the lookout for their children showing signs of injury, depression, or having been bullied, are parents and teachers equally aware of children who inflict injury, who bully others, and who are seen as de facto leaders of gangs in the classroom?
Across the world, there is a certain hesitation in accepting that the cruelty of children need not necessarily be the result of influence; in some cases, it could simply be inclination. When children harm animals, single out each other for attacks, and gang up against a “weak” peer, we tend to focus on the victims. Even when our attention is drawn to the perpetrator, we find excuses in the influence of the media – cinema and video games. We see it as the poor choices of the uninformed rather than as the deliberate workings of a devious mind. There is such a thing as evil, and it is found in abundance in some people.
The Blue Whale challenge has been called “psychological trolling”. As with trolling, our focus needs to be on the trolls. If the victims can be traced, so can the perpetrators. The government, police, schools, and parents must first accept that these perpetrators could be very young themselves. And the challenge will not end until they are stopped.