Blue Whale game claims Arab teens’ lives

The spread of the internet and smart devices has come with increased risks for younger children and teenagers.
Sunday 11/02/2018
A little boy plays a game on a compuer. (AFP)
At risk. A little boy plays a game on a computer. (AFP)

AMMAN - The sometime deadly Blue Whale Challenge, one of the latest crazes in virtual world gaming, has reached Jordanian teens. Schools in Karak governorate, south-west of Amman, reported students inflicting injuries on themselves as part of the 50-day, self-harm challenge.

“The Blue Whale Challenge targets teenagers under 15 who are active on social media networks or who possess smartphones, which are largely available among students,” said Heyam Qadoumi, a teacher in Amman.

The online challenge, which began in 2016, reportedly consists of 50 daily tasks assigned by an administrator. Many of the tasks involve different forms of self-harm (carving phrases on one’s arm, cutting one’s lip, making oneself sick, etc.) The final challenge requires the participant to commit suicide.

“The incident in Karak was a close call and that is why we need to have more supervision over our students and their online habits,” Qadoumi said. “The supervision should be conducted at home and school but teachers cannot watch everyone all the time and that is why parents should be stricter regarding their children using the internet and their smart devices.”

The spread of the internet and smart devices has come with increased risks for younger children and teenagers left without supervision. In Jordan, there are an estimated 8.7 million internet users and more than 42% of the population uses smartphones.

“We were shocked to hear that such behaviour from children is real. All religions forbid people from harming themselves while this Blue Whale Challenge encourages teenagers to kill themselves. As a parent, I have taken several measures to secure my kids’ online presence and I think people should do the same,” said Manal Shehadah, a mother of three.

“We need to be extra cautious and everything should be controlled and the most important thing is to have a trustful relationship between children and parents.”

“There are many challenges online these days and the latest one is the Tide Pod Challenge, in which teenagers film themselves chewing and sometimes swallowing detergents and then posting the videos online as a challenge to others to try,” Qadoumi said.

The American Association of Poison Control Centres (AAPCC) said there were approximately 40 cases of detergent ingestion reported in 2018, with almost half of them intentionally ingested, media reports said.

“There are many easily accessible online games which teenagers and children can download for free like the Blue Whale Challenge,” said Jordanian IT expert Feras Farhan. “All these games are based on manipulating a person’s inner self, usually targeting vulnerable youngsters who are antisocial or solitary.”

“Parents should watch closely every step taken by their children on their smart devices. We need to spread awareness about the dangers of online games that are based on violence because they affect children’s behaviour at home and in school,” Farhan added.

The Blue Whale Challenge has reportedly contributed to teenagers’ death in North Africa, as well. Earlier this year in northern Tunisia,  a 16-year-old died after falling from the roof of her home. Her friends reportedly testified she had been playing the online game but her father was adamant that her death was an accident.

In 2017, seven Algerian children reportedly killed themselves while following instructions from the Blue Whale Challenge. The game is also said to have led to one teenager’s death in Morocco.

The Public Security Department said Jordan recorded 120 cases of suicide for reasons not related to the Blue Whale Challenge in 2016 and 104 during the first nine months of 2017.

Figures show that suicide cases are more common among people between the ages 18 and 27. Amman recorded the country’s highest number of suicides and suicide attempts, followed by Irbid and Karak.

Suicides committed by non-Jordanians, many by Syrian refugees, constituted 17% of total cases in the first nine months of 2017.