Blue Whale Panic Sparks "Whale Hunt" in China

The Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus) is the largest of the baleen whales and likely the largest creatures ever to have lived on Earth.   Blue Whale is also the name of a bizarre online game that has gained notoriety in recent years due to the rash of suicides and medical problems for which it is reportedly responsible.   According to Wikipedia, the game was created by a Russian named Filipp Budeikin and spread using Russia's VKontakte social network (VK for short).  Given its name because of the tendency of Blue Whales to strand themselves, the game involves fifty daily "challenges" ranging from the relatively benign (waking up at 4:20 am) to the macabre (cutting a blue whale symbol onto an arm).  The final task, reportedly given while the player is mentally vulnerable, is to commit suicide.

 Budeikin admitted in a media interview that the true purpose of his game was to "cleanse society" though many have accused him of exploiting vulnerable young people for financial gain.  According to another story, the first Blue Whale suicide movement began in 2013 with the suicide of Russian teenager Rina Palenkova inspiring many of her supporters to create a suicide cult.  Whatever the true origin, Blue Whale has spread around the world with deaths being reported across Russia and Eastern Europe as well as Central and South America.    Though news sources investigating the Blue Whale phenomenon suggest that the fears are overblown, many countries have called for a crackdown and are actively investigating rumours of a Blue Whale telephone app as well as organized social media groups spread throughout the Internet.

In China, for example, fears of a Blue Whale suicide epidemic has led to a massive crackdown with keywords relating to the game being actively blocked and social groups featuring Blue Whale themes being banned.  A teenager was recently arrested in China for "spreading extremist thoughts" online through game-related activity.    On May 8, the following warning was distributed on Chinese social media platform Weibo:  

Suicide game has arrived?] Yesterday (May 8), a number of media outlets issued a warning regarding the Russian suicide game “Blue Whale”. If you know someone using keywords like “Blue Whale” or “Wake me up at 4:20am” on social media with a “Blue Whale” image, please be cautious because he may have participated in the suicide game called “Blue Whale”. We, in particular, warn the parents, to please pay attention to your children’s QQ groups. This is not a joke!

The day after this media warning went out, government sponsored organizations such as the Chinese Communist Youth League and Mama Juries launched their own "Whale Hunt" projects.  Students have been told to be vigilant while parents have been told to check their children's smartphones for Blue Whale themes and to report suspicious activity.  Government censors have also met with popular Internet providers in China to monitor their compliance with the crackdown.    

Although foreign news sources remain skeptical that Blue Whale has gained any real traction in China considering the strong government control over the Internet, they are concerned that legitimate government criticism may be targeted due to the crackdown.    Also, since these warnings are spreading the word about  Blue Whale to young people who might never have heard of it otherwise, critics warn that the crackdown may do more harm than good.

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