Egypt bans Blue Whale social media game over suicide claims

Although the game has existed for two years, evidence linking actual suicides to the game has yet to be produced.

Blue whale
The game consists of a series of 50 tasks with the final challenge being committing suicide [Joshua Barton/Reuters]

Egypt’s top Islamic body has banned a social media game that allegedly entices teenagers to commit suicide, saying it contains elements that are prohibited by Islam.

Dar al Iftaa, the Egyptian institute responsible for religious matters, issued the ban on the game after Egyptian media reported several suicides that were allegedly related to the game, despite the lack of evidence.

One of the suicides was by the son of Hamdy Al-Fakharany, a former Egyptian member of parliament for the Muslim Brotherhood, prompting the religious authority to issue the ban.

Khalid Al-Fakharany, 18, committed suicide after playing the game, according to his sister’s Facebook posts. Several suicides in Jordan and Tunisia have also been linked to the game.

The Blue Whale Challenge gained notoriety in 2016 and 2017 after several suicides in the United States, Brazil, India, Russia and Europe were purportedly linked to it.

The game consists of a series of 50 challenges handed out by an organiser over social media.

The tasks, to be completed in 50 consecutive days, start out benign but get increasingly more violent as the days progress, eventually incorporating self-harm among other things.

On the last day, the user is supposed to commit suicide.

In a response to the challenge gaining traction over the last two years, several countries raised concerns about the game.

Lacking evidence

However, evidence conclusively linking the suicides to the Blue Whale Challenge has yet to be produced and the UK Safer Internet Centre has called the game a “hoax”.

Youth Internet safety expert Anne Collier of The Net Safety Collaborative called the game “a textbook example of how misinformation about online harm can itself be harmful”.

In India, where several 2017 suicides were originally linked to the game, authorities found no evidence of any suicide actually caused by the Blue Whale Challenge.

Several investigations by Russian media, the country where the game is said to have originated, have also found no definitive links between the game and suicides. 

Experts have warned putting the game at the centre of attention will lead to actual mental health and suicide issues of being pushed to the background.

Both India and Russia, the two countries in which the Blue Whale Challenge was linked to most suicides, have generally high suicide rates among teenagers and young adults.

According to research done by the World Health Organization (WHO) suicide is the second-largest cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24.

One of the researchers said the risk is higher because people at this age have more problems with controlling emotions and find themselves at margins of their communities, which increases the risk of suicide significantly.

Source: Al Jazeera