Blue whale challenge decoded and 7 guidelines on helping children to be good digital citizen

Blue whale challenge decoded and 7 guidelines on helping children to be good digital citizen

Blue Whale Challenge is a deadly and sinister game that has reportedly claimed the lives of a hundred of teenagers across the world. A couple of days back media reported another teenage suicide in the city of Panchkula, Haryana linked to Blue Whale. His last words, “‘I should just die, I don’t deserve to live’, ‘no one like me..” are chilling to say the least.

Over hundred deaths have been reported and attributed to the Blue Whale Challenge and other outrageous challenges like the – Choking Challenge, Ghost Pepper Challenge, Ice and Salt Challenge and Cinnamon Challenge etc. How many such incidents will it take for parents to realize that the dangers of social media and mobile gaming are real? Media reports and schools issuing warnings about the “Blue Whale Challenge” has for some reason not deterred parents from casually handing over the mobile phones to young children without supervision or guidance. The recent Blue Whale Challenge substantiates the fact that we cannot allow children to use social media without supervision and abundant caution.

What is the Blue Whale Challenge?

This game is characteristically different from the numerous games that inhabit the cyber world. It is neither downloadable nor is it a software or an application.
Developed by 22-year-old Phillipp Budeikin, a Russian Psychology student, the Blue Whale killer challenge is supposedly a game to ‘clean’ the society of people who are worthless and hence have no right to live. Budeikin said as much when he was expelled from his university for propagating this game. The name Blue Whale was selected as these mammals’ occasionally go out of the water and beach themselves intentionally to die.

The challenge was conceptualized back in 2013. From the beginning, children have been the targets of this game. The administrator would draw children into social media groups by using “mega-scary” videos and then those who were most susceptible to psychological manipulation were given a set of tasks or challenges varying from watching a scary movie at 4.20 a.m. to cutting one’s veins to standing on a roof top and others. Almost all tasks were horrifying in nature, and not all fell prey to these challenges. Rather most left the group when the challenges became more dangerous. However, those who did stay back, eventually succumbed to the final challenge – to commit suicide.

The game of course evolved with time. As best known to us, the game has a set of 50 challenges that instruct players to inflict harm on them. The degree of difficulty increases with each challenge. Since the game is not downloadable, it is difficult to find and track it. Players do not choose to play it, rather the creators seek out players and send them an invitation to join the group.

The online administrator allows the participants a single task each day over a period of 50 days and monitors the player closely. After every task is completed, the participant has to provide photo evidence so that they become eligible for the next task. With each task, the degree of difficulty and associated monstrosity increases ominously. The participant gets mentally attuned to the prospect of committing suicide in the last task, by going through the initial tasks step by step.

The set of 50 tasks assigned by the administrator does not follow a routine pattern. They are adaptable and can vary based on the age, sex and geographical location of the player.
After each task is completed, the administrators judge whether the proof provided by the participant regarding successful completion of the task is actually authentic. If a participant fakes the outcome of the task, like sending photo-shopped images, the chances are that the deception will be detected and the consequence could be anything from severance of contact to more dire threats.
It is unlikely that the administrators of the game can be found or the game can be downloaded. It is the other way around; the administrators seek out the participants scouring the social media sites and choosing those who seem to be depressed or exhibit other vulnerable psychological traits which make them the perfect “victim” for this game. Presently, the creator of this game is being held in a prison in Russia under charges for inciting school children to commit suicide.

It is difficult to keep track of sinister challenges which sprout up sporadically over the web. However, on our part we can educate our children about using the Internet, caution them on the dangers of social media and equip them with necessary knowledge to help them deal with such situations adequately. There are a number of resources online for parents to learn about cyber safety for kids. In fact, UNICEF recently issued guidelines on how to keep children safe in the online world. In addition to those, here are some 7 simple guidelines for parents to help keep children safe and be a good digital citizen:

  1. Do not talk to strangers – It is ironic how we tell our children “do not talk to strangers” in the real world and have a no-holds-barred approach to the virtual world which is in ways even more dangerous.

Most of the communication between entities on the net are faceless and in many cases, this can be a cloak for the cyber bullies while inflicting mental trauma on the victim.  Therefore, the parental adage “don’t talk to strangers” applies in the online world too.

Let us teach our children to not “friend” or “follow” unknown people, accept invites to games or join group/s on Facebook or any other social media channel including WhatsApp groups (if they have their own personal handset and number) and simply to ask them to NOT speak to strangers online or offline and consult with parents should they feel someone unknown is attempting to reach out to them with favors or unsolicited invites.

  1. 13 years and above – Decide when they are ready: Most social media platforms require the user to be over the age of 13 to open an account but children as young as nine are asking parents for their own Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram account. It is shocking that parents are letting them. However, at times children are savvy enough to find a way around by using fake birth date and their parent’s email id. They might find it exciting to get LIKES and comments on their pictures and videos but they are not mature enough to deal with the other negative aspects of social media like nasty comments, trolling, cyberbullying etc. Apart from that, the continuous updates, photos, videos, ads etc. may not be good for the young minds. Plus, there are devious characters lurking on these platforms looking for vulnerable children to manipulate for their advantage. 

So, think again – In the real world, we don’t allow our children to gallivant around the city on their own or walk into a dance club or a lounge bar because they are too young or not old enough to handle the risks and dangers of the real world. The same holds true for the online world.

It is not necessary to allow children to use social media because they want to or are “old enough” are per social media rules. There is no law that defines the appropriate age for a child to use social media. You are the only and the best judge. Don’t decide on the parameter of age but the child’s cognitive ability to consume and process such varied information. Also, take time to familiarize yourself with the platform, learn about security and privacy and then when your child is ready – show them how to use it responsibly.

  1. 50 Constructive Challenges: At 13+ they can be engaged in a number of constructive activities related to their school curriculum. Depending on the interest areas of the child, you can give them a science experiment, write a short story or something which encourages them to go outdoors to visit a local park etc. Even the online medium offers plethora of creative avenues for children. For example, if your child is an automobile enthusiast, instead of giving her the phone to play games, ask her to make a presentation or write an article. You can always find platforms where you can have it published. Alternatively, ask them to participate in household chores and incentivize by allowing them to play any age-appropriate online game of their choice for a short duration. Provide them engaging tasks that stimulate their young curious minds. You can also pick an online app for scrabble, chess or crosswords which may help the child both academically and otherwise too.

 

  1. Post what is real and truthful: It is quite often nowadays that posts are the source of spreading rumors and lies. This can have devastating effect in certain situations and contexts. Posting what is true and positive in nature can go a long way in making the web experience enjoyable. Lead by example. Instead of posting your last night’s party pictures, pick something informative to share with the world. Children are keen observers and you can’t really blame them if they emulate you in the online world as well.
  1. Be Open and Transparent: Children should be encouraged to be open about their online communications and any unnatural requests or posts need to be brought to the attention of elders. Children should also be taught to take the help of parents and elders if they face harassment or are victims of cyber bullying.
  1. Practice what you preach: Before you send a text message, a video or an audio clip, be sure to check it beforehand. Read the text, see the video once again and hear the audio clip one more time before taking the leap. Remember that an insensitive post can ruin a relationship, cause resentment and anger and even lead the receiver to act impulsively and in a harmful manner. Since the person receiving it cannot see the face of the sender it is likely that he or she may misinterpret. Funny one-liners, or jokes can have the opposite effect at times.

And finally,

  1. Teach children to be a good digital citizen: It is necessary to know and understand that interaction on the Internet should be done with the same level of civility and sensitivity that one usually adapts while communicating face-to-face. Being a good digital citizen means to use digital media in a fun, safe and responsible way. To respect the privacy of others and to set appropriate boundaries. To understand their rights and responsibilities as a participant in the online world.

Education begins at home

Phillipp Budeikin (the creator and curator of the Blue Whale Challenge) was reported saying that he was offering warmth, understanding and consideration to the players. He is obviously pointing out to the school going children who have been the victims of his sordid game. This highlights something quite serious. We need to introspect that are we substituting our personal time with mobile phones? Are our children missing that parental companionship and the joy and warmth of bonding? Technology is certainly not a replacement for love and attention that a parent can give one-on-one to the child. Invest time in learning about netiquette yourself and educate them to be responsible and good digital citizens.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NEWSD and NEWSD does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

Karuna Krishan Thareja

Karuna Krishan Thareja is a lawyer and a strong advocate for women and child rights. She tweets at @karunakrishan

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