A new game on the internet is encouraging teens and young adults to take their own lives. At least two American teens, one from Texas, and another from Georgia, have already committed suicide.
In Russia, where the game originated, teens have died in accidents while trying to complete game tasks, while numerous others have killed themselves, sometimes in groups.
During a recent suicide in Texas, the teen hanged himself with his cellphone set up on a shoe to record the event.
The deadly game, called “Blue Whale,” involves the player completing increasingly bizarre tasks, often gruesome, as they lead up to the final dare: committing suicide. Game tasks include self-harm activities such as cutting, violent acts such as harming animals, and dangerous stunts such as lying down on train tracks.
Philipp Budeikin, 21, of Russia, claims to have invented the game as a way of “cleansing society.”
Victims are psychologically manipulated in the game as they complete the tasks. While most players give up on the game at some point, the ones who stay in become increasingly desensitized and disturbed.
One victim of Budeikin explained:
“I had to watch videos with pictures flicking every two seconds of teenagers jumping off roofs, close ups of bodies, bloodied mouths, pools of blood under bodies.
“It was accompanied by very unpleasant, haunting music with screams of animals and pets, and cries like children were being tortured.
“I felt so awful after watching them I wanted to do something physical to either myself or somebody, to kill, to destroy,” she explained.
Despite the deaths, Budeikin has received love letters from teenage fans while he has been in jail.
The Blue Whale game sounds like the plot to a horror movie, and it has certainly been predicted by various films and television shows. Pre-social media, the Michael Douglas thriller “The Game” (1997) explored the psychology of a reality-show like game – before reality shows. The 2016 movie “Nerve” portrays a pressure-filled social media game where players engage in increasingly risky stunts to earn cash rewards.
In 2014, musician, actor, and producer Shaun Cassidy created a television pilot called “Hysteria” for Amazon. The pilot was not picked up, perhaps because it was a few years ahead of its time. However, the show was quite prescient about the potential for social contagion via social media.
In the first episode, teens begin to a develop “psycho-physiological condition” of violent spasms in reaction to an online viral video.
“I can think of no better platform than Amazon to tell a story that explores the price of fear and the very real threat of viral connection becoming contagion,” Cassidy said when Hysteria was launched.
In researching his pilot, Cassidy discovered that many sociologists believe social media could become an extremely strong conduit for mass hysteria.
Mass hysteria existed prior to the internet. In the Middle Ages, strange group behaviors often occurred, even in convents, where nuns started copying each other in bizarre actions such as meowing like a cat or biting each other.
In the Dancing Plague of 1518, people in Strasbourg, Alsace started dancing for days on end without a rest, resulting in many deaths due to heart attacks and exhaustion.
For modern-day parents, helping their teens avoid social contagion may be life-saving. Agent Michelle Lee of the FBI’s San Antonio office encourages parents to keep a close watch on their child’s online activities to prevent social media suicides.
“It’s a reminder of one of the many dangers and vulnerabilities that children face using various social media and apps online every day,” Lee said. “Parents must remain vigilant and monitor their child’s usage of the internet.”