WARNING: Some images below may be disturbing or triggering. If you or your child have thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Help is available 24/7.
Called the Blue Whale Challenge, the app asks kids to complete tasks from as simple as listening to a song to as scary as cutting a vein, brainwashing them in the process till they "win" the game by killing themselves.
Though the challenge first showed up in India and Russia last year, it may be making its way to the United States. WKRG reports that two students from two different schools in Baldwin County, AL, told their school staff about the app, causing staff to issue a warning to parents and students. “Anything that could be a potential harm or danger to students we want to put that out so parents can be aware of it as well,” says Baldwin County school system safety supervisor Anthony Sampson told WKRG. "We just pushed that out as a precautionary measure, but there is nothing that has been confirmed going on our campuses."
As parents, the thought of such a game gaining popularity here is frightening. Here's what you need to know about it:
1. There have been no confirmed suicides attributed to the game.
According to Snopes, back in May 2016, the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that the game was causing teens to kill themselves, and that of the 130 suicides of children in Russia from November 2015 to April 2016, at least 80 of them were linked to the blue whale games. However, when Radio Free Europe did an investigation, they found no confirmed suicides tied to the game.
2. Despite that, as of May 10, game creator Philipp Budeikin is currently in a Russian jail for inciting 16 girls to kill themselves.
The Daily Mail reports that Budeikin confessed to the crimes. He said he views his victims as "biological waste" and was "cleansing society."
3. The app is no longer available on iOS or Google Play stores.
However, it was previously available as the Blue Whale Challenge in both app stores, reports WTAE. When an app is removed from app stores, they can get deleted from users' phones, according to Lifehacker. But if a user backed it up on the device, the app may still be able to be used.
4. Though it's no longer available as an app, the game might be played within social media groups, which aren't as regulated.
A senior official from the investigative committee in Russia, Anton Breido, tells the Daily Mail that the creator and his aides first attracted kids into VK, or social media groups, by getting them to view scary movies. After gathering the kids, he'd ask them to do tasks, and for those who stayed and complied, those tasks would get more serious—like balancing on a rooftop or killing an animal and posting pics to prove it—till there was only a small group left that would do everything to remain. According to Breido, after completing enough tasks, one unidentified girl who reached the final stage of the game before quitting was invited to join a closed group where she had to be awake at 4:20 a.m. every night and watch disturbing videos. Breido also notes that the unidentified girl spent a lot of time in social networks. "She saw a link to click a scary picture, then another, and finally reached one of the groups promoting suicide organized by Philipp. There were thousands of such groups so it was really easy to join one of them," he says.
5. The game supposedly threatens kids who want to quit and gets the players to delete such threatening messages so concerned adults can't find them.
Breido tells the Daily Mail, the unidentified girl told him that if she wrote saying she wanted to leave the group, she would be threatened by the administrator and shamed for being weak. Breido also says that 15 of the kids who committed suicide were ordered to remove all their messages in their social media accounts.