The Shifting Sands of Social Media!
Change is the only constant, “they” say; and the digital world is a perfect example of that adage. But what “they” forgot to mention is that today’s rapid digital changes have thrown various complexities in our life. Parents to digital natives have so far been concerned mainly about their wards being exposed to adult/explicit websites and vulgar content on the internet. However with the recent rise and wide adoption of social media, new concerns have cropped up on the digital landscape. Exposure to pornography pales in significance to the gamut of issues plaguing children on the internet today. Right from cyber bullying and cyber sexual assault to self harm and international terrorism the internet is playing host to a range of alarming events. Social media, despite its immense benefits in facilitating communication and knowledge sharing, has greatly aided the spread of malicious trends such as those highlighted previously. Take for example the viral popularity of Sarahah! Despite various articles warning about rising cyber-bullying activities on the platform there is a steady if not growing digital beeline for Sarahah on the appstores. Kids know fully well the dangers that they could be exposed to and yet they give in to the “powerful tug” of FOMO.
What is the Blue Whale Challenge?
The “Blue Whale Challenge” is the latest social media nightmare doing the rounds and is attracting a lot of media attention although it has been around the dark alleys of the internet from early 2013. The game might sound innocuous at first, but that’s where all the innocence ends; as participants are psychologically prodded to end their lives. The “game” seems to have been the sick brainchild of Philipp Budeikin who has been single-handedly responsible for inciting the death of at least 16 Russian school girls. Media reports claim that the game had an almost genocidal angle to it; with Philipp claiming that he wished to “cleanse society” of all waste. Despite its seemingly modest beginnings in a remote corner of Russia, the “game” has since almost developed into a cult led by administrators across the globe who ultimately push participants to commit suicide. The “game” has now spread across Europe, North America, and Asia snowballing into a major internet/social media concern.
“There are people – and there is biological waste. Those who do not represent any value for society. Who cause or will cause only harm to society. I was cleaning our society of such people.” - Philipp Budeikin, alleged creator of the Blue Whale Challenge
The Blue Whale game is named after the phenomenon of whales beaching themselves “intentionally” and dying in the process. The game is primarily promoted across secret groups on social media and remote chat-rooms on the internet. The administrators scour social media for victims and then invite them to join their group. Once a participant joins the group, he or she is expected to go through a daily routine of tasks for a period of 50 days. The participants are required to validate their participation and prove that they have completed the given tasks by uploading videos and sharing photos of the same with their curator/admin. The final task is to commit suicide. Participants in this challenge find it hard to quit as they are blackmailed and cyber bullied into completing the game. This Reddit post of an unknown participant describes a spine-chilling narrative of the resources, clout and influence administrators seemingly possess. Parents who wish to learn more about this macabre game can check out a detailed FAQs document put together by UNICEF.
What Can Parents Do?
The knee-jerk reaction would be to ban social media and the internet. But that would be akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater! The digital environment today serves as the window to the world, so shutting it up for your kids isn't an option. So here’s a checklist for parents to keep in mind for safeguarding their children from the Blue Whale challenge:
- Keep your eyes open to the latest internet trends; especially fads among teens.
- Your child probably knows about the Blue Whale Challenge thanks to all the internet and media frenzy surrounding the game. Take some time out to explain the concerns about this online challenge with resorting to undue scaremongering!
- If you notice unusual changes in your child’s behaviour pattern such as lack of sleep, moodiness, a general disinterested outlook, self-inflicted wounds (cuts, scratches etc.) or poor grades at school please monitor your child’s online activities.
- Stay up-to-date about your child’s activities at school. Check with teachers on your child’s progress or participation regularly. Teachers might notice something that you might have missed.
- In case you find that your child is playing the Blue Whale Challenge, confiscate any internet device they might access and inform local law enforcement about your predicament at the earliest.
- Talk to school authorities and also consult a psychologist to help your child return to the fold of normalcy.
Apart from the tips above, parents should also adhere to the following to ensure that their children are always safe online:
- Lead by example. Be a good digital citizen so that your kids can learn the basic tenets of digital decency and online safety from you.
- Communicate and share your concern regarding your children’s online activities with other parents. You can surely glean mutually beneficial insights from such conversations.
- Parents have to adapt and mesh their parenting attitudes and activities with the digitally rich environment that their children are born into. Try using the social media platform your children are on, to either understand how the platform functions or to establish a new medium of communication with your kids.
- Ensure that all the devices used by your children have a suitable parental control software installed in them.
What’s more disturbing than the Blue Whale Challenge itself, is the increasing interest and curiosity about the game among teens and tweens, despite knowing full well about the possible repercussions. We have observed teenagers posting messages on chat-boards inquiring on how to join the Challenge while other kids are frequently browsing the internet about information related to the game. “There is not a more curious species on planet earth than a young, pre- or elementary school human child” observes Chris McKenna, from Protect Young Eyes. This apparent online curiosity/interest among teens for the Blue Whale Challenge can be easily leveraged by sick individuals looking to reel in new victims. We, at Mobicip, strongly believe that rearing children the right way in today’s digital world can’t be solely achieved through a plug-and-play application or internet filter. Online influences need to be addressed offline too with regular conversation and exchange of opinion. Parents can take a leaf from the Pink Whale Challenge and find innovative methods to positively influence their children; for there is no dearth of negative influences out there. Show your children that there is more to this world than their glowing screens.
Writing credit: Co-authored by Prithiv, a Mobicip researcher constantly on the lookout for digital pitfalls that parents and children could avoid.