If you search for the tag #BlueWhaleChallenge on social media you’ll get a message like these:

As someone who has never seen this type of warning on Instagram, Twitter or YouTube I found it incredibly alarming.

The Challenge

The Blue Whale Challenge is a “game” that has been linked an unknown number of teen deaths.

In April of 2016 journalist Galina Mursaliyeva published an article about a “death group” called F57  on the Russian social media site VKontakte, or VK for short. VK is the largest online social media network in Europe, but is also available in English which is how many kids in the USA are participating.

The name Blue Whale is said to come from the phenomenon of the animals intentionally stranding themselves on beaches. It’s also thought that the name Blue Whale came from Russian band Lumen’s song “Burn,” which is about depression. The lyrics that reference a blue whale are: “We can be silent, we can sing/Stay or run away, but still we burn,/A big blue whale can’t break the chain./Surrender or not, but still burn.”

Other names for the game include: “A Silent House”, “A Sea of Whales” and “Wake Me Up at 4:20am”.

A book called 50 Days Before my Suicide was said to have unwittingly been an inspiration for the challenge aspect of the reported groups.

Here’s the way the game works:

The Blue Whale Challenge lasts 50 days. Each day, the participant is told to complete a task. While there has been some variance, the tasks that have been translated are all pretty similar. On the 50th day of the challenge, the participant is encouraged to take his or her own life.

Every time you complete a task, you must send photographic or video proof to an administrator or “curator.”

It involves urging them to complete tasks including waking at strange hours,.

Eventually exhausted and confused, they are told to commit suicide, and it is feared in Russia that dozens have done so at the bidding of Budeikin or other “mentors”.

On the 50th day, the controlling manipulators behind the game reportedly instruct the youngsters to commit suicide.

The First Victim

The first known victim of the challenge was Rina Palenkova in November 2015. She posted a selfie with the word “goodbye” and threw herself in front of an oncoming train. Palenkova shared VK posts about suicide and depression before her death.

The types of accounts whose posts Palenkova was sharing reportedly went on to publish images of her after her death. Many of these groups considered her a symbol for a darker part of the Russian-speaking internet. The admins of the Blue Whale communities began to play into the mystery surrounding them by posting cryptic messages making them seem elusive and secret. These groups actively exploited the theme of suicide and published shock content: psychedelic and sinister video recording suicides. The creators of the community filled it with strange characters — Hebrew inscriptions, numbers, codes, pictures and video with a strange logo (it turned out to have been borrowed from the logo of a brand of lingerie).

In 2017 the game picked up a renewed interest. Google searches for the term “blue whale” shot up.  Around the same time a reporter from Radio Free Europe said they’d infiltrated one of the communities by posing as a 15 year old girl. An apparent administrator responded, “Are you sure? There is no way back…. You can’t leave the game once you begin.” That person later told the undercover reporter not to tell anyone about the tasks and to send a photo of each completed task to the administrator. “And at the end of the game you die,” the person said.

A spokesperson from VK confirmed that the site is developing an algorithm to automatically block this kind of content.

And there are those who claim that the whole thing is a game, or rather, an online joke. VK users purported to name Blue Whale victims and then many of the listed users announced that they were actually alive by posting messages.

Inventor of the Game

Philipp Budeikin, a 22 year old Russian national, has taken credit for the game. He said he created the game in 2013 under the name F57. The name combines the sound of the start of his name and the last two digits of his phone number.

In a chilling interview in St Petersburg, Budeikin was asked if he really pushed teenagers to their deaths.

“Yes,” he said, “I truly was doing that.  Don’t worry, you’ll understand everything. Everyone will understand… They were dying happy. I was giving them what they didn’t have in real life: warmth, understanding, connections.”

Budeikin also said, “There are people – and there is biological waste. Those who do not represent any value for society. Who cause or will cause only harm to society. I was cleaning our society of such people. It started in 2013 when I created F57 [online] community. I’d been thinking through this idea for five years. It was necessary to distinguish normal [people] from biological rubbish.”

In other interviews he claimed he did it for “likes”.

Budeikin was arrested in 2016 and and was sentenced in 2017 to three years for inciting at least 16 schoolgirls to kill themselves.

Since his arrest he’s been inundated with love letters from teenage girls.

Four months ago Major-General Alexey Moshkov, head of anti-computer crime K department in the Russian Interior Ministry, warned that in 2017 a total of 1,339 online suicide groups had been uncovered, with an audience of more than 12,000 users and over 200,000 posts.” He revealed 230 criminal cases have been opened and 19 masterminds – called ‘curators’ or ‘administrators’ have been detained so far.

Other Victims

Recently police in Russia are investigating whether Maria Vinogradova, 12, and her sibling Anastasia Svetozarova, 15, took part in the deadly social media craze, after their bodies were found dead on a snowy pavement beneath their apartment block in Izhevsk, Russia.

Police are to study the girls’ phones and computers for any traces that such suicide groups had sought to exploit their emotions or guide them towards taking their lives.

Seconds before she died, Maria posted a picture of her boyfriend and a message to him with smiles and hearts saying: ‘Forgive me, please. I love you so much. ‘I know you will find somebody better than me.’ Anastasia recorded a video in which she said: ‘Good bye to everyone! I love you all! This is true. Love you very very much.’

Veronika Volkova, 16 years old, and Yulia Konstantinova, 15 yrs, fell to their deaths off a 14-story building in Siberia. Two teenage boys were detained by police at the scene for allegedly filming the tragic double suicide.

A girl named Ekaterina, 15 years old, was critically injured after falling onto snowy ground from a fifth floor apartment also in Siberia.

On Feb 19, 2018, a 16 year old boy, Ahmet P., hanged himself in front of his friend in Turkey after taking part in the Blue Whale Challenge. His family wants Ahmet’s death treated as murder.

Deaths in the United States

“Nadia”, 16 

Parents in Atlanta, GA want to keep their daughter’s identity private. After her death her family found clues that lead them to the Blue Whale Challenge. They found a drawing of a girl with the name Rina Palenkova written in Russian. An internet search lead to her story and supposed involvement in something called Blue Whale. Her brother remembered a picture of a blue whale taped by her mirror. There were drawings indication self-harm, a whale drawing with the words “I Am A Blue Whale” glued on it, abstract paintings of the skeleton of blue whales, suicidals writings in her journal with goodbye messages and entries in Russian.

Isaiah Gonzalez, 15

In July of 2017, the teenager from San Antonio, TX, broadcast his suicide on Facebook livestream in July of 2017. His mother, Angela Gonzalez, said that she believed he was being assigned daily tasks for 50 days from a social media group. He was threatened if he didn’t complete the tasks.  His parents say he had sent photos of himself completing challenges to friends prior to his death, but that they had been brushed off as a joke. His father, Jorge Gonzalez, wants to warn parents about the deadly game.

Natasha Cadena, 32

Natasha took her life on July 4, 2017, by hanging herself, in an apartment in Wichita Falls. Her mother Sandy is convinced her daughter’s death is connected to the Blue Whale Challenge. Sandy said that Natasha had started hurting herself, cutting herself, taking videos and photos and showing them to a woman called Loretta in France. Sandy also claims that Natasha was sending Loretta money every month until she died.

Loretta is the one who called Sandy with the news of her daughter’s death. “Somehow she got my number,” Sandy said, “and she told me, ‘Hey, you might want to go check on your daughter. I think she just killed herself.’ I said, no way. But Natasha wouldn’t answer her phone. So we rushed to her apartment. She wouldn’t answer her door. When I reached for my phone to call 911, Loretta was calling again.”

Chase, 12

A young boy from LeFlore County, Oklahoma took is own life on August 13, 2017 and his grandmother, Linda Miesner, wants to warn others about the Blue Whale Challenge. “Watch ’em. Be aware of what they are on the internet with. Just pay attention to your kids. Be aware that something so innocent, can be deadly.”

The LeFlore County Sheriff’s office said their investigation led to two more children at Chase’s school who were doing the challenge.

They said both girls have stopped playing and are now getting help.

Help for Parents

While there is no Blue Whale Challenge app there are some things parents, teachers and friends can keep an eye open for.

Remember the game may be called something other than Blue Whale Challenge like “A Silent House”, “A Sea of Whales” and “Wake Me Up at 4:20am” or “F57”. Since there is no one app the challenge is played on any social media channel such as Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr and Facebook. The game is played using hashtags like #IamaWhale, #IwanttoPlay, and #searchingcurator.

School districts across America have begun sounding the alarm, advising parents to talk to their children about the risks of the game. For instance, the Ohio Department of Education issued the following warning:

As an adult, we wonder why any youth would get involved in something like this in the first place, knowing the consequences. For one thing, we must consider the tween/teenage brain and where it is in development. Logic is not at the forefront. Curiosity is likely a large factor for seeking out this challenge, but depression and desire for acceptance may play a role as well.

Initiate conversations on the topic: Share the dangers of online challenges such as this; encourage them not to follow the crowd and not to feel pressured into doing anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

Create an open, trusting environment: Provide them with opportunities to talk to you, then listen without judgment. Make sure they know that no matter what situation they may find themselves in the virtual or “real” world, including something you may find inappropriate, you are there to help them through it.

It is also important to monitor your children’s social media activities: Three hashtags that signal this particular game include: #BlueWhaleChallenge, #CuratorFindMe and #I_Am_Whale.

Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, Facebook, After School, and Tumblr have all added functionality to provide resources to users who may be contemplating suicide.