On July 18, I opened a browser, pulled up various social media sites, and searched for the #bluewhalechallenge.

The Blue Whale Challenge is a nefarious internet meme that encourages those who embrace it to hurt themselves. Over the course of 50 days, an anonymous administrator is said to assign players escalating dares that involve self harm. The final task is suicide. Interested people find these administrators through hashtags and images on social media. It could well be a threat to public safety. The trouble is, like many things on the internet, no one is really sure what the truth is.

Rumors of the game’s prevalence have existed for several months, but in early July, they escalated. For one, a baby-faced Texas teen killed himself—this really happened—and broadcast the suicide from his phone. His family found evidence he may have been participating in the challenge. Shortly after, a second American teen took her life, and her family also found evidence connecting her to the game. Then, on July 17, Siberian courts sentenced a 22-year-old Russian man to more than three years in prison for his part in launching the game, convicting him of inciting the deaths of two teenage Russian girls.

Jessi Hempel is Backchannel’s editorial director.

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