By Advocate Hanan Moumin
Not long ago snapping , a deal or flipping a cart would have landed any ordinary man behind the bars in a jiffy. But Snapdeal or Flipkart now stand for a trendy and smart way of making errands leading the long and never ending list of internet based shopping portals. The revolution which the internet has kick-started in the past decade is not ancillary to an introduction. From net-banking to social networking, every sphere of our modern lives is, directly or indirectly, subject to this digital invasion. However, the changes it has initiated are unfortunately also subject to a plethora of challenges which were previously unknown to the human mind. Primarily invented as an easy and fast mode of communication, internet has changed the nature of human interaction forever. A Facebook post on the situation in Syria by an American journalist can be commented upon by his British counterpart and Tweeted as a news item by Reuters within few minutes of actual happening, essentially vaporizing the factors of time and space previously associated to such process.
The complex virtual social web which the internet has managed to weave over world makes it impossible to hide or bypass information on the global level. But, the actual web of social interaction seems to get diminished on every-day basis. Statements or stands are asserted through “status” on social networking websites, expressions exist in “emoticons”, “meme’s” are the new jokes, instead of talking, we “chat”, instead of voicing opinions, we “comment”, instead of giving approval’s, we ”share” and instead of responding to our name, we respond to “notification” rings eagerly. The backlit screen of our smart-phone is our new and only window to the outside world which is rapidly turning into a digital wasteland. A newer toxin of this wasteland and so far the most vicious one is an online game infamously known as “Blue Whale Challenge” which is so far accounts for more than 1000 teenage suicides all over the globe and is now making inroads into the Indian subcontinent.
The Blue Whale Challenge, originally conceived as F57 (a group on the Vkontakte social network), is an online game which was created in the year 2013 and unlike other games it is not a usual platform wherein players engage on a common interface to score over each other after skillfully following complex commands through their electronic devices or gaming consoles. Rather, it is a mind controlling program designed to exploit vulnerabilities of an emotionally disturbed mind. The game progresses in stages usually fifty in number, rewarding the sadistic faculty of player’s mind in more prominent manner after the end of each stage. A game administrator or group of administrators give out one task each day to its players challenging them in a thrilling manner to complete unusual tasks which include listening to depressing music, watching horror movies, taking dangerous selfies in perilous locations, waking up during the dead of night and visiting a nearby graveyard, isolating or distancing from social circles and not talking to anybody for a day, inflicting self harm (e.g carving a shape of blue whale on arm) and finally committing suicide. The unlocking of stages depends on the filming of tasks during their performance by the player and submitting it to the game administrator as a proof of work.
Philip Budeikin, the designer of this game and a former psychology student from Russia, was apprehended by Russian authorities in the month of March this year after a chain of suicides in Russia was found to be incited by this game. While confessing to the fact of creating the game for the sole purpose of exploiting suicidal tendencies prevalent in teenagers, he openly expressed no regret for the loss of lives his game had caused so far. The sensational capture of Philip Budeikin and the mass outcry prompted the Russian government to amend laws pertaining to incitement of suicides attracting attention of global media houses. Since then a trail of suicides have been linked to Blue Whale Challenge from all over the world with major instances occurring in China, Bulgaria, Kenya, Georgia, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Spain, United States of America, Pakistan and India. The trail of suicides earned this game its popular name “the blue whale challenge” which vaguely resembles the process of beached whales or beaching, a phenomenon wherein whales or dolphins strand themselves on a beach and subsequently die.
July 2017 marked the official entry of India in the victim list of Blue Whale Challenge, with Mumbai reporting the first suicidal death due to this challenge. Within a short span of time, West Bengal, Puducherry, Madhya Pradesh, Dehradun, Kerela and Delhi were exposed as new frontiers of this digital onslaught. The government woke up from slumber in the month of August and on 15th of the month a direction was issued to internet majors such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, Microsoft and Yahoo to immediately remove all the links pertaining to Blue Whale Challenge from their respective platforms. To ensure compliance, the Delhi High Court issued notices to Google, Facebook and Yahoo to file a report on the steps taken by them to remove access to the Blue Whale Challenge.
However, a recent incident in the month of September, which involved a 17 year old Rajasthani girl attempting suicide twice and succeeding in second attempt has proved beyond any doubt that spread and access to this game is now difficult and in certain cases impossible to restrict. While admitting to the failure of enforcement agencies to check the access of internet users to game links, officials from Cyber Crime in Maharashtra openly declared that every single link they are able to block is responded by creation of hundred more links within minutes. Describing the structure of how the game spreads, the officials have categorized it as a peer-to-peer game, where one can only play if link is sent by another user and therefore is hard to track down giving a tough time to enforcement agencies all over the country. Even though authorities are reluctant in associating every teenage suicide with Blue Whale Challenge without proper scrutiny, the established instances are more than enough to set alarm bells ringing and demand immediate attention of authorities and parents alike.
Awareness and strict scrutiny of content available online by authorities, at large and, parents in particular, is now a necessity. The paranoia and reluctance among parents towards the internet is more than justified especially when an evil like Blue Whale Challenge lurks around. The human mind is susceptible to injury like rest of the body and a teenage mind can easily succumb to online manipulators as hapless victims. The parent-children bonding has received a fatal jolt since the advent of social networking as most of quality time which parents are supposed to spend with children is lost to professional engagements of either parent or child. Parents have every right to know about the activities of their children and to restrict the access to things or processes which they cannot understand or comprehend fully. The ethics and morality of parenting cannot be sacrificed on the altar of modernization. Blue Whale Challenge is just one among the many threats that have emerged online and are in direct conflict to the future of our nation i.e. children.
Online stalking, Cyber Bullying and Trolling which have assumed status of “cool trends” over cyber space are actually despicable behavioral traits which no parent would expect his/her child to follow and definitely not to become a victim of. But, the harsh reality is that both the things happen and on a daily basis, without parents noticing it, until a tragedy befalls and a father is left cursing the day he purchased a smart-phone for his child. It is the collective responsibility of our society and all stakeholders in it to fight this virtual menace. Awareness through special meets and programs should be undertaken to fill the void of communication which social networking has created in real world within the families. The role of educational institutions is pivotal in launching of subjects and courses pertaining to molding online behavior of children and teenagers, which is a subtle way to make them understand that passing of lewd comments is wrong and unacceptable either online or offline. The absence of parental control should not be taken as an opportunity to promote a culture of hooliganism and lewdness over the internet, wherein a child takes pride in blocking the account of an older relative, if he/she accidentally happens to be on such platform, so as to avoid any scrutiny in future. The Blue Whale Challenge has given us a glimpse of tough times that our future generation shall be inheriting and simultaneously presented an opportunity to nip the evil in bud and set the right precedence. After all, actions of evil men do not matter till the good choose to do nothing.
The author is an Advocate at the Bar Council, New Delhi. He can be reached at: [email protected]