It’s a game of death

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It’s a game of death

Blue Whale challenge targets troubled teenagers. We have a responsibility towards these children

The Government issued a diktat recently, ordering Internet giants like Facebook and Google to remove links and groups connected with the Blue Whale challenge. This ‘game’, as much as the media has chosen to characterise it, is no game but a series of challenges, aimed at troubled teenagers, and leads young one’s through disturbing and psychologically damaging tasks before finally getting them to kill themselves by jumping off a building or standing in front of an onrushing train. The problem is to use that cliché — once the cat is out of the bag, it can never go back in. Anything and everything on the Internet is preserved for posterity. And it appears that major Internet giants have already acted to some extent against this horrible phenomenon. But that has driven the tasks’ purveyors, who are the administrators of these groups and are some really twisted individuals underground the realms of the ‘dark web’, onto groups that circulate through secure messaging services which, incidentally, are also used by the likes of terrorists. If someone wants to find a group it does not take too much of an effort. But to blame the administrators of the group or even the Internet providers, is to blithely ignore the main issue, detached and possibly depressed teenagers who want a ‘way out’. Troubled teenagers do very stupid things and remain a particularly high-risk group for suicides. This is not a new phenomenon and acting against the ‘Blue Whale’ challenge will not make the problem disappear.

Indeed, with increasing fragmentation of families, who move far away for economic reasons as well as increasing prosperity, teenagers and young adults are particularly vulnerable today. Unfortunately, many troubled youth feel disaffected by family life and also tend to be loners in schools, thanks to this feeling of rootlessness. With almost no focus on mental health issues, both by Indian families and also schools, the problem is exacerbated and is multiplied by the easy availability of a wide variety of troubling content online. The only solution to reducing the risk of suicides by young people is to, therefore, have an increased focus by schools to recognise trouble as early as possible. One way to do that is to psychologically evaluate children at a young age as is the norm in developed countries. Another less intrusive way would be to increase the number of counsellors in schools. Friends and parents should be encouraged to intervene with children and if need be mount an intervention together.

Of course, the Indian Government and Governments across the world should act swiftly against the administrators of these groups. There is no doubt that they groom children for suicide. By psychologically destroying them, they are thus no better than murderers. But the society as a whole should not let our teenagers spiral out of control. And it’s not just about suicide but also the disturbing rise in juvenile crimes across the country. Access to online groups is just a symptom of the problem, addressing the main issue should not be forgotten in the headlines about a game.

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