Is 'Blue Whale' game just a myth? Dubai Police clarifies
Police say there are no reports of suicides in the UAE, nor have there been any reports of people playing the game.
A WhatsApp message circulated among parents in the UAE warning of an online 'game' urging teens to self-harm has resulted in a call for more duty of care when it comes to digital citizenship.
You may have heard people talking of a chilling online challenge called 'Blue Whale'. The premise is that players carry out dangerous tasks till they are eventually told to kill themselves. And when parents caught wind of the 'game' via WhatsApp here, many were left concerned for their children's safety.
Blue Whale 'suicide game' big concern for Dubai parents
However, Colonel Saeed Al Hajiri, Director of Cybercrimes Department at Dubai Police, confirmed to Khaleej Times that there has been "no reports of such suicides in the UAE", nor has there been reports of young people playing the 'Blue Whale' game.
"The police will patrol the web to prevent any exploitation children and it will also continue in its efforts to spread awareness about negative or dangerous online activities that pose a risk to the community," he said.
When Khaleej Times signed up to the social networking site (vk.com) which media reports claim host the origins of 'Blue Whale', it was unable to verify if the game exists or not - but evidence points to the latter.
With many of the site's community pages using titles relating to 'Blue Whale', when we tried to reach the 'contacts' of several pages, the replies came up short.
But a search through the comments section of one closed group (which we joined) did reveal messages from users warning people not to 'play'.
"Do you know what you're getting yourself into? You may have some problems, but death does not justify this", one comment read.
Although evidence points to this game being an urban myth, what the news has done is seen a reaction from schools and parents here on the need for more vigilant monitoring when it comes to online activity.
Speaking to Khaleej Times, Dr Immanuel Azaad Moonesar R.D., Assistant Professor of Health Policy at the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government Dubai, said although it appears this 'game' is fictional, that doesn't mean it should be ignored.
"Because of the digital society we live in today, much of the information that comes to the fore has less validation than ever before. But the main thing people need to know is that whether this particular game is in existence or not, this kind of activity is taking place online and children are the target."
He said parents and children today are so busy with school and work that "conversations about online safety" are rarely happening. And that's a gap that we need to bridge.
"When I go to social events I hear ridiculous statements of apparent 'facts' being circulated following something someone has read online. I think it is important to always validate the facts. This is what we need to teach parents and students, that way there will be less fear-mongering happening," he said.
For Brendon Fulton, Principal of Dubai British School (Taaleem), he said there has been "no direct evidence of this 'game' being played by students" in his school, yet educators must remain attentive to protect children from such "sinister trends".
"Our 'Let's Talk' sessions sees professionals coming in to talk to parent groups about what to look out for, signs to be aware of, and how to talk to their teenage children about feelings of depression, self-harm and suicide."
He said even talk of challenges like 'Blue Whale' - whether fictional or not - can have an impact on vulnerable students.
With digital citizenship a core part of the digital curriculum at Gems schools too, Christine Nasserghodsi, Director of Innovation, said it is imperative students understand both the "benefits and risks" of different online activities.
"Our teachers are trained to identify at risk behaviours and to engage in early intervention if a child shows signs of withdrawing."
What the school also does is encourage parents to engage with their children in meaningful ways in a bid to "discuss their online and offline relationships and activities".
Follow these guidelines:
1. Use a nick name, code name - It's best not to use your real name or names that might be sexually suggestive or offensive to others
2. Set profile to private - This way only people you invite can see what you post
3. Keep personal information to yourself - Do not share your address, phone number or other personal information online with strangers
4. Post with caution - Be cautious about sharing provocative photos or intimate details online. Remember: what you say in a chat session is live - you cannot delete it later.
5. Read between the "lines" - It may be fun to meet new people online for friendship, but be aware that flattering or supportive messages may be more about manipulation
6. Think about your response - If someone says or does something that makes you uncomfortable, block them and don't respond. If they continue, let your parents or another adult know.
Source: Trend Micro
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