Schools across southern England are warning parents about the dangers of an internet game, which some people claim has led to the suicides of 130 teenagers in Russia.
David Wright, deputy headteacher at Woodlands School in the Essex town of Basildon, has written to parents, alerting them to the dangers of the Blue Whale game, which is played across multiple social-media platforms.
Players of the game are given a “master”, who sets them 50 tasks over 50 days. A descriptive account of the game, posted to a forum dedicated to creepypasta – horror stories and urban legends intended to scare readers – suggests that the master always knows whether or not the tasks have been accomplished.
The tasks start off innocently: for example, a player might be asked to wake up in the middle of the night. Gradually, however, they build up to acts of self-harm, such as carving the image of a whale into their skin. On the fiftieth day, players are instructed to take their own lives.
In his letter to parents, Mr Wright wrote: “We have discovered a game through the police that we think you should be aware of… It is called the Blue Whale game and is played via many social-media platforms…
“On the fiftieth day, the masters behind the game instruct the young people to commit suicide, and sadly across the world some have done this. Please continue to support us in keeping all our young people safe, and should you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.”
Police in Cambridgeshire have also warned parents about the Blue Whale game and Hertfordshire police have instructed local schools to warn parents about the challenge.
A spokesman for Hertfordshire constabulary told the Cambridge News that it had sent the following message to schools: “The challenge is believed to be spreading across Europe…
“Thames Valley Police have had three suicides recently that are believed linked to this, and some London boroughs have identified youths who were within the 50 challenges… If a child is identified within these challenges, please get advice immediately.”
However, the myth-busting website Snopes says that links between the Blue Whale game and teenage suicides in Russia remain unproven.
It states: “It is more reasonable to assume that depressed or suicidal teenagers are simply drawn to the same social media groups, not that the groups were causing them to commit suicide.”
Concerns over the Blue Whale game come as TV drama 13 Reasons Why was criticised for glamorising teenage suicide.
Ged Flynn, chief executive of suicide-prevention charity Papyrus, attacked the Netflix series for suggesting that suicide was a viable option for teenagers and for depicting the method of suicide.
The Samaritans also pointed out that the US-produced drama was not subject to UK media regulations, making it harder to protect young viewers.