The Blue Whale Challenge
What is it?
The "Blue Whale Challenge", is an online interactive phenomenon where an administrator or "curator" assigns 50 tasks to a participating and compliant individual. A task is issued roughly each day, with photos, videos, or some recorded proof of accomplishment sent to the curator. At the end of the 50 days, the final task entails an action that is intended to end the life of the person participating.
“The final task entails an action that is intended to end the life of the person participating.”
When did it start? Where?
It's difficult to know the exact origin, nor how long that the practice has been in effect. Some speculate that it started as long ago as 2013, others surmise that it started as early as last May 2017. First or initial accounts of the phenomenon in the United States have only recently circulated. At this time, there are reports that major online social media outlets are complying with safety initiatives to shut down or stop the curators when or if the opportunity arises.
Students (teens or young adults) who participate in the challenge and/or are contemplating doing so may change their profile pictures or cover photos to a whale, or write at some point a version of, "I'm a whale", or "I'm a blue whale". The number f57 and 4:20 are also significant if seen on social media.
Due to the lack of uniformity of this particular social media predatory activity, a complete and confirmed list of activities could not be obtained. There are too many variations, but there are some confirmed similarities that could make identification of participation possible. The following signs below are a loose compilation of possible signs that a teen or vulnerable person is participating in self-harm activity, possibly associated with the Blue Whale Challenge. Please be aware that the items below are not an exhaustive list, nor fully indicative of participation, but upon presentation may warrant further investigation, intervention, and utilization of resources for help.
- The words, "Blue Whale", or "I'm a Blue Whale" (or other variations), possibly in conjunction with a photo of a blue whale posted on social media may be used to confirm participation.
- The words "cipher", "curator", "secret task", or other cryptic identifying names may be used within communication.
- Intentional marks/cuts or acts of self-harm are assigned in various shapes, codes, and locations (hand, leg, etc.). Symbols that have been associated with the Blue Whale Challenge may include:
- A drawing or photo of a blue whale
- The number 4:20, f57, f40, carved on or in the skin
- The word "YES" carved or cut in the skin
- Identifying tags online or social media such as: "#i_am_whale" (or other variations)
- "VKontakte" or "VK" is apparently a social media outlet used overseas.
- Roof tops, bridges, construction cranes, and railways are mentioned. Some tasks include loitering in areas such as these, or performing specific activities that involve high-risk bodily injury and behaviors.
- While repeated exposure to media (horror or "psychedelic" movies, and music) may not indicate an obsession or participation in the phenomenon, a participant may be requested by the curator to wake at a prescribed hour (such as 4:20 am) to listen to prescribed music or watch psychedelic movies.
NOTE: If you see any of these behaviors, injuries, or suspect possible proof of participation in these activities, contact a legal guardian, mental health professional and/or law enforcement for assistance and support.
Advice for Parents/Guardians and Teens
- Monitor your children's use of electronic devices and computers. Know what types of websites they're visiting, and what apps they're attempting to access and are using. Talk with them about what they're doing on their devices. Regularly review their browsing and search histories.
- Provide guidance to your children/teens on what to do if someone challenges them to use the app, or if they know of someone using the app. Encourage them to tell a trusted adult who can then help address the problem, report it to authorities, connect at risk youth to help, and address the infected device.
- Know the warning signs of mental distress. Changes in behavior. Physical or verbal expressions of hopelessness, sadness, extreme boredom, depression, and/or anxiety. Displays overwhelming pain or distress. Talks about, writes about or makes plans about committing suicide. Experiences stressful situations including a loss, change, personal humiliation, trouble at school or with the law, etc.
- Know what to do. Call 9-1-1 in an emergency when someone makes an immediate threat to hurt or kill themselves, and restrict their access to anything they may use to harm themselves. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), the Red Nacional de Prevencion del Suicidio (for Spanish speakers) at 1-888-628-9454, or a mental health professional if someone shows warning signs, but is not in immediate danger.1
Advice for School Personnel
- Teach students about responsible electronic use. Make sure students understand that dangers of sharing any personal information online. Encourage them to report and not participate in cyberbullying. Emphasize security tools that can be (such as managing privacy settings) to protect their personal information and prevent/report harmful incidents from occurring. Provide them with information on who to contact if they ever feel like their or a classmate's safety is in jeopardy.9 Find more resources on keeping students safe online at: https://staysafeonline.org/stay-safe-online/
- Know how to identify and refer students at-risk for self-injury and suicide. Know how to identify changes in behavior that could be warning signs. Becoming a suicide prevention gatekeeper can assist you in knowing how to identify, respond, and refer someone who may need help. Texas Suicide Prevention provides a free, online gatekeeper training, A.S.K., that is specific to Texas.10
- Know the physical signs of someone participating in the Blue Whale Challenge. Additional signs of self-injury and suicide are listed below:
- Utilize resources available. Turn to mental health professionals employed in your school/district, or locate your Local Mental Health Authority (LMHA). Texas Suicide Prevention provides free resources for Texas schools. Find more best-practice resources, visit that Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) at: http://www.sprc.org
Reporting Suicidal Behavior on Social Media
It is important that students and parents know how to report suicidal behaviors that are witnessed on social media sites. The following resource outlines how to report suicidal behaviors on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, and Pinterest:
“It is important that students and parents know how to report suicidal behaviors that are witnessed on social media sites.”
NOTE: This information is intended for educational and prevention purposes in schools. While the Blue Whale Challenge is circulating in the news, there is still much uncertainty about how much of this is rumors and panic. It is advised to bring up this uncertainty when communicating with communities about the Blue Whale Challenge.
Below are some downloadable resources to help spread awareness information about The Blue Whale Challenge:
1Parent Guides on Cybersafety: https://www.connectsafely.org/guides-3/
2Prevent Cyberbullying: https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/prevention
3A Parent's Guide to Cyberbullying: http://www.connectsafely.org/wp-content/uploads/cyberbullying_guide.pdf
4What Parents Need to Know About Self-Injury: http://www.selfinjury.bctr.cornell.edu/perch/resources/parenting-2.pdf
5Texas Suicide Prevention: http://www.texassuicideprevention.org/
6Access your Local Mental Health Authority (LMHA): https://www.dshs.texas.gov/mhservices-search/
7Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery: http://www.selfinjury.bctr.cornell.edu/documents/schools.pdf
8Suicide Awareness Voices of Education: https://save.org/about-suicide/warning-signs-risk-factors-protective-factors/
9Teach Online Safety: https://staysafeonline.org/
10Suicide Prevention Resource Center: http://www.sprc.org/