A teenage girl committed suicide in her Central Road home in Dhaka on October 5. Her father claimed that she took part in a sinister online game Blue Whale Challenge.
The Blue Whale Challenge is one such online game which eventually provokes the players to commit suicide. Another teenager in Mirpur, Dhaka, tried to kill himself by taking sleeping pills to finish the last level of the twisted online game Blue Whale Challenge. A 14-year-old boy is recovering from attempted suicide at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) after allegedly trying to finish the last stage of the online game.
The Police in Chittagong detained a first year student of Chittagong University on October 11, for playing this online suicide game. The student said that he started playing the game out of curiosity after finding it in a Facebook link. The police counselled and later released the student. In its latest attempt the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has launched a hotline number (2872) and urged internet users to report if they notice any link of the suicidal game in the internet. But this is not enough to tackle this situation. The BTRC may take immediate steps to remove all links to this online suicide game from social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
The social media platforms like the Facebook and Instagram have earned significant growth in the recent days and also increasing at an amazing pace with the increasing use of the internet. If the BTRC removes the links of the suicidal game in the internet, the crazy young users, very proficient in internet use, may find other devices, as they did earlier. Earlier, the government blocked Facebook in the country for 21 days because of security reasons. Surprisingly, a large number of Facebook users bypassed the blocked system and used Facebook through free VPN services.
Originating from Russia in 2013, the Blue Whale Challenge has become one of the most controversial trends on social media platforms worldwide and has reportedly claimed the lives of at least 130 teenagers in Russia alone. A Russian 21-year-old youth, named Philipp Budeikin, former psychology student, admitted to be the creator of the game, proudly claiming that he had designed the game to “cleanse the society” of “biological waste”. A game, popular among teenagers, has now spread throughout the US, UK, France, Russia, and some other countries in Europe as well as in Asia like a deadly disease. Recently, this deadly online game has become popular among the youths of Bangladesh.
The Blue Whale suicide game is believed to be a social media group which is encouraging young people to kill themselves. In this deadly game, a group of administrator assigns daily tasks to members, which they have to complete over 50 days. The horrific tasks include self-harming, watching horror movies and waking up at unusual hours, but these gradually get more extreme. On the 50th day, the controlling manipulators behind the game reportedly instruct the youngsters to commit suicide.
With the spread of this online suicide game in India, the federal government has asked sites such as Facebook and Instagram to remove “links” that lead to alleged Blue Whale groups or sites. Some schools have even started issuing warnings and setting up awareness drives for students about its dangers, in turn raising alarm among parents and feeding into the sense of hysteria. In the state of Uttar Pradesh, smart phones have been banned in school, and one school in Punjab has asked its students to wear short-sleeved shirts so that, they cannot hide the whale-shaped tattoos, the alleged proof of participation in the deadly the Blue Whale Challenge.
However, Bangladesh has so far witnessed only one case of suicide which is reportedly linked to the Blue Whale Challenge. But the number of suicidal attempts was not few. It is yet alarming for young boys and girls in Bangladesh, especially the teenagers who are entranced by the itch of social media, are in the risk to fall victims to this online suicide game. Parents should talk with their children and emphasise that they can make their own choices and discuss ways of how to say no to this online suicide game.
The social thinkers and the concerned authorities should spare some of their valuable times to find out the reasons as to why our children and youth have become so such interested to such deadly online games. There is no denying that, in this age of digital distraction, a whole generation is growing up preferring Facebook over reading books. They are quite unwilling to leave their smart phone or turn off the computer. Absence of other recreation facilities and outdoor games may be reason for growing online addiction among children. So, the scope for healthy recreation facilities should be increased for the young generation.
The Blue Whale Challenge is a one-on-one conversation between the player and the moderator. This conversation can happen anywhere on the web. Twenty-one-year-old Philipp Budeikin, the creator of this game, was imprisoned by a Siberian court for his nefarious creation. According to investigators, he claimed that the victims were “biological waste” and that he was “cleansing society.” The group associated with the game is said to have thousands of members and subscribers on Facebook and Instagram.
According to the BTRC, around 12.50 crore people use mobile phones and six crore use the internet in the country. Very soon the number of internet users would be similar to the number of mobile phone users due to various steps taken by various government agencies. A monitoring centre would be set up at the telecommunication directorate at Tejgaon under Posts and Telecommunications Division. The directorate would control the system and act on behalf of the government. However, the president of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services said the project would intrude into people’s private lives and create opportunities for abuse.
It is an encouraging development that the government has decided to install internet monitoring equipment by May 2018 to help combat militancy amid growing concerns about extremists using the internet to spread their propaganda and also to communicate among them. The project titled ‘Cyber Threat Detection and Response’ was approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) meeting held on March 28. The equipments to be installed under the above said project, and would help clamp down on cyber threats and crimes including spread of harmful matters in the internet.
It is hoped that, it will also enforce the ban on pornography other harmful online games like the Blue Whale Challenge and would enable the law enforcers in monitoring internet activities of the people round-the-clock. It would also provide enormous opportunities to the law enforcers to observe and even control people’s online activities including their browsing, messaging and content downloading activities.
It goes without saying that, as the use of information and communication technology becomes more pervasive than ever, the scope for its harmful use has widened to an unprecedented degree. Moreover, certain quarters are using the internet, especially the social media, to propagate misinformation and harmful events and thus misleading the young generation. The Blue Whale Challenge is one such online game which eventually provokes the players to commit suicide. The Challenge gives the player some tasks with increasing difficulty. And while that sounds like every other online game, the ultimate task of the player is to end his or her life.
Provocation of such dangerous games is a kind of cyber crime, which is now a global issue as it is not bounded by borders. It is an abiding spectrum of threat which is more dangerous than is typically predicted. Lack of technological prowess has made the youths of the country more vulnerable to such online suicide games. Although BTRC has blocked the web link of the game in Bangladesh, the link of the game is still appearing in Facebook and Instagram. In such a situation a strong and effective cyber security act is essential for Bangladesh along with installation of internet monitoring equipment to help combat such online dangers.
The writer is a columnist