Internet generation

In our anxiety about the Blue Whale Challenge, are we missing the elephant in the room?

While discussing the dangers of an unregulated cyberspace, shouldn’t we also be speaking about depression and mental health?

In the beginning, the Blue Whale Challenge seemed like it had all the hallmarks of an urban legend: an online self-harm game that instructed victims to commit increasing degrees of violence upon themselves, finally convincing them to commit suicide. While it was whispered about in schools, college corridors and Reddit forums, reporters found it difficult to trace.

But since then, it appears to be accruing a body count: multiple suicides and suicide attempts in Russia, Kenya, Brazil, China, Spain, Italy, Chile and India have been attributed to people signing up for the challenge. The stories are often accompanied by images of a blue whale carved onto the victim’s skin or a last selfie taken before committing suicide.

The latest incident in India involves the last-minute rescue of a teenager in Jodhpur who attempted suicide twice – first by jumping into Kalina Lake on September 4, and then by overdosing on sleeping pills – within the same week. The teenager had carved the shape of a whale on her arm, and when interviewed, revealed that unless she completed the last task of the challenge, she believed that her mother would die.

Most victims of the Blue Whale Challenge across the world appear to have a few things in common – they are young and vulnerable to abuse online, and their connection with the game is hard to substantiate. While the stories speak to our wariness of technology-dependence, and send our parenting instincts into nervous overdrive, there is very little evidence on ground that the game even exists.

Ever since the challenge was first reported on a Russian news portal, news reports have debunked its existence, raising questions about the media’s responsibility in spreading unsubstantiated rumours and the manner in which the issue is being used to argue against the influence of the internet and promote panic. Much of the coverage regarding the challenge’s possible influence, begs the question: how can teens be raised in a way that makes them safe from the internet?

Photo credit: Public Domain Pictures
Photo credit: Public Domain Pictures

The Blue Whale Challenge in India

Cyber-lawyer Karnika Seth, who authored the book Protection of Children on Internet, admits that it is impossible to generate the kind of surveillance required to nip perceived online threats – both on account of privacy laws and the sheer scale of effort such an exercise would require. She calls the unregulated internet in India a “mammoth problem that cannot be overlooked anymore”.

While there is no specific law to be applied to a situation like the alleged Blue Whale Challenge, Seth pointed to acts relating to the cyber space like the IT Act and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, along with inbuilt provisions within the Indian Penal Code, such as Act 305, that could be applied.

There have been approximately 10 reported cases of suicide in India, which are believed to be related to the Blue Whale Challenge. Google Trends show that Indian interest in the phenomenon has been overwhelming – the most common searched phrases have been “Download Blue Whale Game”, which might suggest that people are keen to inflict self-harm, or just morbidly curious (particularly in Kochi and Calcutta).

Timely intervention appears to have saved at least a few lives, such as the case of an engineering student in Kolkata who claimed that having completed several levels of the game, he was pulled back from the brink of suicide by his teacher, parents and a CID officer who counselled him. He was quoted as saying: “My message to whoever is in this game is stop before it is too late. It is not a game…they give you challenges and they take you to places you cannot come back from. They drive you to suicide.”

But despite this, the police in India have found no direct link between the suicides and the existence of any virtual moderator, who according to the Blue Whale legend, instructs victims to inflict self-harm. A lot of the so-called links have been proved to be hearsay and hysteria as seen in the case of a 12-year-old from Indore, whose mother clarified that while he had admitted to “playing games”, he had never heard of Blue Whale.

A disturbing trend

Pranesh Prakash, Policy Director at the Centre for Internet and Society, concluded: “All the available evidence points to this being a hoax, including those situations where teenagers have actually engaged in self-harm by carving a whale on their arm and have blamed the ‘Blue Whale app’ and a stranger threatening them. The children have subsequently been found to be lying through hard evidence, for instance the mobile operator finds no records of any messages or calls at those timings to the child’s number.”

While the first suicide linked to the alleged challenge emerged in Russia in 2015, Prakash added: “[E]ven the Russian police haven’t revealed any evidence in their possession in the arrests they have made related to the Blue Whale Challenge, nor have those cases gone to trial. How else can one explain the fact that there hasn’t been evidence of a ‘tutor’ in even a single one of the cases reported in India?”

There is, however, a huge problem regardless of whether the game exists: “The harm caused by the media sensationalism is quite real thanks to what is known as the Werther effect, leading to copycat suicides,” Prakash said.

Authorities in most countries where victims have appeared have treated these claims seriously. In May, the Russian Duma or parliament made it an act of criminal responsibility to create a pro-suicide group on social media. Authorities in China and other countries are monitoring mentions of the game on forums and live broadcasts. The Delhi Police have issued an advisory after a cyber cell spotted related hashtags and messages on social networking sites. In India, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology directed several internet companies such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, WhatApp, Microsoft and Yahoo to remove all links which direct users to the Blue Whale Challenge.

The real problem

Teenage suicide is a growing concern worldwide and India has one of the world’s highest suicide rates for youth aged between 15 and 29. In the US, suicide is documented as the second leading cause of death for young people. The Netflix original series 13 Reasons Why was banned in several countries over accusations that it glamourised teen depressives and suicides.

The real conversation we need to be having with the youth is about their reasons for choosing self-harm – about mental health and depression. Dr Depeak Raheja, a senior psychiatrist and vice-president of the Delhi Psychiatric Society, suggested that parents who suspect their child might have suicidal urges should address not just the issue of the game, “but also the underlying causative factors – isolation, low self-worth, hopelessness and underlying or active depression”.

Photo credit: Victor/Flickr
Photo credit: Victor/Flickr

One way in which this is already happening is through online mental health support groups which are promoted as alternatives to the Blue Whale Challenge. In Brazil, a designer has created a viral counter movement called the Pink Whale (Baleia Rosa), which relies on the collaboration of hundreds of volunteers and is based on positive tasks that combat depression. The British YouTuber HiggyPop has also set up an email service that sends daily Pink Whale challenges to participants. In the United States, a site called Blue Whale Challenge uses fifty days of tasks to promote mental health and well-being, while the Green Whale Challenge is a humorous version of the game in Argentina.

The fear and anxiety around the Blue Whale Challenge shows our willingness to project our fears of an unregulated internet onto anything that fits the profile, even as we override all evidence to the contrary. Instead, parents in particular must treat the tragic aftermath of popular suicide games as an opportunity to have a necessary, if belated, conversation about depression and mental health. The Blue Whale challenge may well turn out to be a hoax, but the challenge of keeping teenagers safe and healthy is a very real one.

Karishma Attari is the author of I See You and Don’t Look Down. She runs a workshop series called Shakespeare for Dummies and is currently writing a novel titled The Want Diaries. Her Twitter handle is @KarishmaWrites.

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Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Also those looking to upgrade their TV to a smart one can get Rs. 20,000 off by exchanging it for the Sony Bravia 108cm Android TV.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch. For those of you just looking for a high quality fitness tracker, the Fitbit Charge has Rs. 4500 off on 22nd September.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and the super compact JBL Go Portable Speaker at 56% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of and not by the Scroll editorial team.