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News 22 Feb 17

Bulgarians Warned Against Believing ‘Suicide Game’ Stories

Stories about a Russian online game called ‘Blue Whale’, which unsubstantiated rumours have claimed coerces teenagers into suicide, have flooded Bulgarian social networks, causing hysteria among parents.

Mariya Cheresheva
BIRN
Sofia
Photo: Juuuuuune/Flickr

Reports about a mysterious game, which according to unsubstantiated rumours has caused the suicides of hundreds of teenagers in Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, have caused alarm among parents in Bulgaria after claims that young people in the country have also started playing it online.

Bulgaria’s Centre for Safe Internet told BIRN that it has been contacted by large numbers of concerned parents and teachers about the game, which is allegedly played in closed groups in social networks.

The panicked adults have cited news and photographs which they have seen on social networks showing a bloody image of a whale carved into the skin of a child who has been provoked to harm himself or herself by an online ‘guardian’ as part of the game.

But the Sofia-based Centre for Safe Internet said that there was no concrete evidence for the existence of the game or anything to substantiate the claim that teenagers were playing it in Bulgaria.

“‘Blue Whale’ is a creepy manipulation of parents’ fears,” the internet watchdog said in a statement on Monday.

The Centre for Safe Internet issued its statement after a number of Bulgarian websites published articles claiming that the Russian game, which they claimed had taken the lives of hundreds of teens, was now being played in Bulgaria.

The Blue Whale Doomed Hundreds of Kids, it is Coming to Bulgaria. Protect your Children!”, “A Horrifying Game Leaves Children Dead” and “The Blue Whale Killed Over 200 Children” were among the headlines.

The hysteria followed the revival of a story which originated in Russia in November 2015 with the suicide of a teenage girl whose death was linked to claims that a group of criminals were running an online game that provoked children to take 50 challenges, and then coerced them to commit suicide at the end.

A number of online groups started emerging in the Russian social network Vkontakte, where teenagers used hashtags such as #bluewhale (or Siniy Kit in Russian), “silenthome”, or codes like f57,f58 in order to take part in the game.

After the teenagers typed the hashtags, they started receiving orders from an anonymous online ‘guardian’, with the final one being to commit suicide, Russian media reported.

Newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that between November 2015 and April 2016, 130 teenagers committed suicide in Russia because of the game, but no evidence was provided to substantiate the claim and the authorities did not confirm it.

Since then, the story has continued to circulate in media in Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, also reaching countries like Bulgaria.

“This incredible story attracts tabloid websites, which profit from visits, adding more and more horrifying details and stories, which are not supported by any facts,” the Center for Safe Internet said.

This has caused websites to create bloody images and YouTube videos about the game in order to generate traffic, it added.

As a result of the hysteria on Bulgarian social networks, teenagers have already created four Facebook groups named Blue Whale in Bulgaria, one of which has already been closed down, Georgi Apostolov from the centre told BIRN.

“The topics of life, death and sex are important for teenagers. Flirting with death is popular at this age,” he said.

He also warned that the phenomenon is directly linked to the inability of children and their parents to distinguish fake news from real content on the internet.

According to a report by the centre, released in 2016, 40 per cent of Bulgarian parents are incapable of detecting fake or manipulated content.

“Instead of panicking about fabricated internet monsters, spend more time in getting interested in the digital life of your children… Such conversations will help you, together with your kids, to distinguish what is true from what is not, and will bring you confidence that if your child encounters something disturbing on the internet, they will share it with you,” the NGO advised Bulgarian parents. 

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