The teenager, hunched over a smartphone, hermetically sealed from the “real” world, is the stuff of parental anxiety. It is hardly surprising, then, that news of the Blue Whale challenge has brought on a panic attack across the world. The idea of a Pied Piper-like game, arising from the unknown spaces of the interwebz and leading vulnerable young people to self-harm and suicide, has rattled governments into action.
In the face of this viral paranoia, the facts are rather shaky. Reports of 80 Russian teens killing themselves after having accepted the challenge have been debunked by fact-checking sites such as Snopes.com. Closer home, in India, there has yet been no evidence to link recent teen suicides to the challenge. The spread of this faceless fear, from Brazil to the US and India, has been compared to the blitzkrieg of fake news.
The Blue Whale is a mirror to a tumultuous time. It reveals our ambivalence about technology and social media, which have never before shaped the intimacies of human life to this extent. It has given us a morality-play like template to deal with the rebellion of adolescent life — all we need to rescue our children is to slay the dementor of the internet (and not by talking to them, or trying to understand their unspoken alienation).
But, most of all, it reveals a crisis of societies in the throes of dizzying, incomprehensible social and political change. It reflects a longing for a more innocent time, when teenagers stayed home and watched state television — or, best of all, deferred to parental authority to discern the good from the predatory. But the real and the fake, in our brave new world, are welded into a mashup. That is, perhaps, why we need bogeys such as the Blue Whale challenge to make sense of these interesting times.