Amid increasing concern that Russian "suicide challenge" Blue Whale is making its way to UK social media, popular photo-sharing app Instagram has put up a warning for its users who attempt to search for hashtags and terms related to the game. The move comes after a horrifying interview with the alleged founder of the game came to light in Russian media.
The infamous challenge, dubbed the 'Blue Whale game' or 'F57', initially spread on Russia's social networking website VKontakte (VK) and has been linked to the suicide of multiple teenage girls in the region. The sinister game allegedly involves social group administrators – referred to as 'Masters' – seducing teens into accepting a 50-day challenge.
Each day Blue Whale participants are set tasks that increase in severity over the course of the challenge. Early tests ask "players" to wake up at specific times during the night, while later challenges involve self-harm. To 'win' the game, participants are told to commit suicide under threat of having their families murdered if the subject does not comply.
With concern growing that "death games" have started to spread beyond VK, Instagram has now placed a warning page when searching for commonly associated phrases – both 'Blue Whale' and 'F57' now redirect to a warning page on desktop or a notification within Instagram's mobile app.
Despite the concern expressed in the text (below), a 'Show Posts' option will skip to all images with related terms or hashtags, although user photos connected to 'F57' have seemingly been blocked for the past three weeks. A message on the search page reads: "Recent posts from #f57 are currently hidden because the community has reported some content that may not meet Instagram's community guidelines."
Meanwhile, searching for "Blue Whale" still calls up multiple images that show users with bloodied outlines of a blue whale on their own skin. The majority of these images claim to be faked, with one user noting the use of a henna tattoo (embedded below) to recreate a picture of a "genuine" blue whale carving commonly linked by Russian media to the deaths of two teenage girls. This same image has also been posted to Instagram by multiple accounts.
An Instagram spokesperson told The Sun: "We care deeply about keeping Instagram a safe and supportive place. We have zero tolerance for content that encourages others to harm themselves or commit suicide on Instagram and quickly remove any content which breaks our community guidelines. Related hashtags may also include posts condemning suicide and self-injury and in many cases can help us identify and support those at risk through tools and partnerships with experts"
Several Instagram posts also depict Filipp Budeikin, the purported mastermind behind the game who is being held and investigated in Moscow pending a full criminal trial in connection to online "death groups."
The Investigative Committee of Russia noted in November that Budeikin – who stands accused of organised suicide challenges under the pseudonym "Filipp Lis" and "Fox" – has "been interrogated, but refused to make a statement". It also stated that other administrators have had their houses searched and been interrogated.
"All of them have been interrogated and have given detailed evidence telling that he encouraged and pushed teenagers to take their own lives via correspondence in social network VKontakte," the statement read. "The investigators have confiscated from them and Budeikin electronic data carriers and other materials that may be relevant to the probe."