Blue Whale is worth talking to your kids about

Opinions on whether or not it is a hoax are divided, but the web always poses dangers

There was not much interest in the internet game Blue Whale Challenge (BWC) until the media began warning against it and police claimed several Czech children have injured themselves. Other sources claim it is a hoax or urban legend, but in either case it provides an opportunity for parents to talk to their kids about potentially dangerous online challenges and other web pitfalls.

Stories about BWC, known as Modrá velryba in Czech, began in Russia. Media there claim that the game has claimed the lives 130 people in a six-month period. Supposedly, an administrator of the game uses social media to find followers and sends them a list of risky tasks for 50 days. The last task is to jump off a tall building. Other Russian media dismissed the story, saying that there was no uptick in suicides and that no link could be found between the alleged game and teen deaths.

Tabloid media in the Czech Republic began reporting a week ago that the game has come here. Actually interest seems to have been very low before the reports, but since then it has become a popular search term and police are saying that they have credible reports of Czech children harming themselves due to the game.

Czech police said April 13 that children with information should print a copy of the computer screen with evidence of the game and give it to parents or teachers. Adults are supposed to contact the nearest police station or call the police emergency number. The police say they have been working with social media sites to stop the spread of the game.

Police ask parents to talk to their children about the dangers of social media, and also to watch children for changes in behavior and to look for evidence of self-harm.

Police claimed on April 20 that since their initial statement they have received dozens of reports concerning the game, and they reject the idea that they are spreading a hoax. The police claim that photos of self-harm such as cutting an image of a whale into the skin have been posted to social media. They also claim that on person who was an administrator of the game demanded naked pictures from his teen followers.

Whether or not these claims from Czech media and police are exaggerations, there are risks on the internet. Aside from BWC, there are other internet challenges that go viral and can lead to health risks, scarring and permanent injury.

The EU on its Better Internet for Kids page has issued a warning about the game. The EU points out that the media attention has made the hoax become a reality.

“A recent meeting of the Insafe helpline network acknowledged that although Blue Whale may have initially been a hoax or fake news, it is now becoming problematic. There are concerns that some young people (as well as adults) are exploiting the fear around this to encourage others to self harm and carry out various dares and post the results online stating that it was part of the Blue Whale challenge,” the Better Internet for Kids page states.

“There is a real challenge here for awareness raisers and law enforcement agencies about how to deal with the rumors. Is it best to make others aware of the issue so they are better equipped to address it when necessary – or is it better to say nothing in case this fuels further fear and concern, and possibly alerts some children and young people to the existence of the BWC and encourages curiosity and possible experimentation? Clearly the challenge element to the game could be very attractive to many young people, particularly perhaps those with depression or who are already vulnerable to self harm,” the page continues.

“Hoax or not though, when we have children and young people in schools that are cutting the outline of a whale on their wrists (in some cases in order to get attention from others in class) and when the BWC is becoming a topic for conversation, then we need to address it,” the page concludes.

In the Czech Republic, parents can turn to the Czech Safer Internet Centre, which has a website at www.saferinternet.cz and provides some information in English.

Parents can also find out more about kids and the internet at www.saferinternet.cz (ENG), which has general web safety information and some specific news on BWC at www.betterinternetforkids.eu.

In all cases, warning kids to beware of strangers on the internet and not to share personal information is always good advice. Telling kids to avoid doing tasks or challenges because of some viral challenge or because some stranger told them to is also evergreen advice. Kids should also be cautioned about sharing personal photos with strangers online.

Many social media sites such as Facebook do not allow children under 13 to have profiles, although many people ignore this. The policy is for child safety.

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