Though most social media challenges are lighthearted, others have caused serious injuries, poisonings, and even deaths.
Parents have long warned their children about peer pressure. But kids are still vulnerable to taking unnecessary risks because “everyone else is doing it” — and dangerous social media challenges are no exception.
With the rising popularity of several social media platforms in recent years, pressure to participate in social media challenges has become far-reaching and difficult for many kids and teenagers to resist. And while some online dares have been discovered to be pranks, hoaxes, or blown way out of proportion in the news, others are truly as dangerous as they seem.
Here are seven social media challenges that led to fatal consequences.
Blue Whale Challenge
Believed to have originated in Russia, the Blue Whale Challenge reportedly emerged on numerous social media sites around 2016.
The premise of the game is simple: Search social media sites for a term related to the Blue Whale Challenge. Get connected to a “curator,” who then gives the “player” a series of increasingly dangerous daily tasks, such as carving letters and numbers into their arms. The player sends photographic proof of each completed task to the curator, and then repeats each day.
Until you get to day 50 — when you’re told to commit suicide.
“They start psychologically manipulating you,” said Russian university student Oleg Kapaev, who began playing the game out of boredom, in an interview with Sky News. “It is very professionally done. You become a bit of a zombie.”
Eventually, Kapaev was given his final task: Jump off of a 20-story building in Moscow. “I didn’t feel like I needed to kill myself,” he recalled. “I felt I needed to complete the task. I only had this thought in my head.”
Thankfully, Kapaev’s parents found out about the challenge and intervened before he was able to carry out his final task. But others haven’t been so lucky. According to Sky News, there have been an estimated 130 deaths linked to the Blue Whale Challenge in Russia alone. And by 2017, the game had made it to several other countries, including the United States.
Tragically, 15-year-old Isaiah Gonzalez died by suicide in his home in San Antonio, Texas after playing the Blue Whale Challenge. The teen was found hanging in his closet by his father, and his phone was propped up nearby — apparently broadcasting the entire suicide online. And he wasn’t the only American victim. Another teenager, an unnamed 16-year-old girl from Atlanta, Georgia, also committed suicide in 2017 after playing the game.
Instagram responded to the tragic news by creating a message for users who search for terms related to the Blue Whale Challenge: “Can we help? If you’re going through a difficult time and want support, we’d like to help.” The message includes a link to helpline numbers and suicide prevention tips.