(KMOX) – Recent stories about teens taking part in something called the “Blue Whale Challenge” have been making their rounds on social media, and at the top of newscasts.
Why? Because the trend encourages death by suicide.
The online suicide challenge is said to have started a few years ago in Russia. Since then, suicides suspected to have been inspired by this Blue Whale trend have been reported in parts of central Asia, Europe and South America, CNN reports.
A Georgia 16-year-old’s suicide in May appears to be the first in the U.S. influenced by the concept, though another teen suicide in Texas in early this month is also suspected to be linked to the Blue Whale Challenge.
A report on the boy’s death from the San Antonio Police Department does not mention the challenge. But his family said in the days after the teen died, they pieced together from his social media and communication with friends that he had participated in the game.
The “game” is said to be administered by an online curator and takes place over 50 days, CNN reports. Those who participate are given daily tasks by to accomplish, with photographic evidence required to prove they have completed each task.
The challenges vary in intensity, from drawing a blue whale to secretly cutting oneself and scoping out the future location of participants’ suicides.
Each task becomes riskier, and on the 50th day, players are reportedly instructed to commit suicide.
Participants are also reportedly told that once they start playing, they cannot back out or change their minds, with threats to themselves and their families coming from the online curator.
CNN reports that Google data shows online searches for Blue Whale in the U.S. began in late February, with interest spiking across the country in mid-May.
Some preventative measures against the suicide challenge are being taken. For example, Instagram sends an automatic warning to users who search hashtags related to the game, stating, “Posts with words or tags you’re searching for often encourage behavior that can cause harm and even lead to death. If you’re going through something difficult, we’d like to help.”
Twitter assesses reports of self-harm or suicide, and also directs users to mental health or suicide-prevention resources, according to CBS News.
The Miami Police Department created an awareness video in May, and shared it on the department’s Facebook page:
Of course, parents watching for warning signs, checking their kids’ social media, and talking to their children about the Blue Whale Challenge and suicide can help, too.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or get more information on their website: suicidepreventionlifeline.org.