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News 05 Apr 17

Romanian Pupils Warned About Blue Whale ‘Suicide Game’

The Romanian government has started an awareness campaign in schools after unproven claims that the Russian-origin online dare game ‘Blue Whale’ might have caused several juveniles to commit suicides.

Ana Maria Touma
BIRN
Bucharest
Photo illustration: Andrew Skudder/Flickr

Romania’s Interior Ministry started an awareness campaign in schools on Tuesday to warn pupils, teachers and parents about the alleged risks of the notorious ‘Blue Whale’ online game after several recent juvenile suicides were linked to it by the media and some police – although no proof of any link has yet been established.

Interior Minister Carmen Dan and Mayor of Bucharest Gabriela Vranceanu Firea kicked off the campaign on Tuesday at a school in Bucharest where they spoke to the pupils about the risks of online gaming and the danger of playing ‘Blue Whale’.

"Stop playing! It’s your life at stake!” says the slogan of the campaign.

The initiative comes weeks after authorities in neighbouring Bulgaria warned about the same risks and Moldova reported that at least three teenagers had jumped from buildings in mid-March after allegedly playing the game.

‘Blue Whale’ is believed to be a social media group that originated on a Russian network which allegedly encourages teens to self-harm and ultimately kill themselves.

However fact-checking site Snopes has said that reports that 130 suicides of Russian youths were linked to it are unproven. No proven link has been made to the suicides in Romania either.

Romanian police and local authorities have reported several incidents allegedly linked to the game during the past month.

On Friday, the mayor of a village in eastern Galati county announced that seven pupils aged from 12 to 14 had arrived at school with cuts on their arms and one of them had admitted to playing the ‘Blue Whale’ game. Local police have started an investigation.

The incident came four days after an 11-year-old boy in Dambovita county, north-east of Bucharest, hanged himself. Police said they had clues that the boy was playing the ‘Blue Whale’ game.

Also in Dambovita county, police reported they identified other six pupils aged from nine to 17 who were also interested in the game.

Cases allegedly linked to the ‘Blue Whale’ game have been reported in Iasi county, eastern Romania, where on March 17, five pupils ended up in hospital after holding their breath for too long while playing a dare game during recess.

A doctor treating the students said they might have been involved with ‘Blue Whale’, but police said they were still investigating.

The first suicide allegedly linked to the online game was in Brasov, central Romania, when a 19-year-old took his own life three weeks ago. A teenage girl alerted the authorities when she received an access code to the game on her mobile phone.

Interior Minister Dan expressed her concern about the phenomenon, saying that schools, parents and students had to be cautious although none of the incidents had any proven links to the game.

“The Intelligence Commission in parliament will also discuss the matter,” Dan promised.

“As far as it is still online and it can be accessed, we can’t say it hasn’t reached Romania,” she added.

However, clinical psychology and psychotherapy professor Cristian David told news.ro agency that the entire story had been blown out of proportion.

“The truth is there is not proof of a link between these online communities and suicide," David said.

"These teenagers reach these online groups because they have depression problems, they think about suicide and they seek these communities. The communities amplify the problem, but they don’t cause it,” he added.

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