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Deception of Digital Gaming

The risks of social media are plenty – and its newest victims are children, who are being trapped in death challenges and suicide mongering games reflective of an evil conscience pervading our society

As the adage goes, 'All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy'. Undoubtedly, games are integral to children's development. However, the growth of technology has altered the space of gaming, particularly with the growth of online games, and welcomed a new generation of gamers. With the development of online gaming, anti-social elements have begun taking undue advantage of children's innocence with horrific suicidal games like Blue Whale Challenge, Momo Challenge. As a result, minors have been abused and the online harassment of kids has resulted in unfortunate cases of suicide.

Secret Digital groups

According to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), the Blue Whale Challenge is an online game where tasks are assigned to participants. The etymology is rooted in the act that, at times, whales beach themselves intentionally and die. The players are expected to take photos of them undertaking various challenges – with the final being of committing suicide – and upload them as proof for the curator's approval. Participants are routinely blackmailed and cyber-bullied into completing the game.

These games are not available on the Play Store or App Store. Rather, these are shared among secret groups on social media where creators seek their players/victims and send them an invitation to participate. Various such games are now available under different names such as A Silent House, A Sea of Whales and Wake Me Up at 4.20 am. Acting upon the issue, NCPCR asked parents to ensure that children have access to age-appropriate online sites, which do not promote unethical behaviour or violence, and to also monitor their online activities.

An advisory set up by the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) laid emphasis upon cautioning children in schools about various suicidal games during morning assemblies. Ranjana Prasad, member of the child rights body, wrote to Directorate of Education (DOE) and MCDs that apart from spreading awareness in the assemblies, parents can be sensitised about the threat to their wards by addressing the issue in PTA meetings.

The Commission further claimed that most child psychologists hold the view that a child tending to stay by himself/herself, stopping interaction with family and friends, often talking about running away from home or even death, or changing eating and/or sleeping habits must be immediately given special attention. These are the basic symptoms depicting an inclination towards participating in the online game.

Foreign creators

"The Momo Challenge account seems to be connected in foreign countries and their islands," claimed the letter which was sent by NCPCR as advisory to chief secretaries of all states and Union Territories to protect children from suicidal games.

Accessed by Millennium Post, NCPCR advisory claimed that Momo is a social media account on WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube that used the artwork of a Japanese artist who has no connection to the game. "As per reports, sometimes the account challenges users to communicate with an unknown number and complete a series of violent acts ultimately resulting in death," the advisory claimed.

If one refuses to follow the orders, he or she is sent threatening and disturbing images. The account seems to be connected to three distinct numbers that were found to be operating in Japan, Mexico, Columbia and a number of smaller islands on both sides of Latin America.

Expert opinion

According to Cyber Expert Kislay Choudhary, the suicidal games market advertisement links which are sometimes promoted through social media applications. "In between advertisements, there are hidden links of suicidal games. Once clicked, the creators have access to the device and can ask the victim to complete various stages, or else are harassed," said Choudhary. He further added that it is the responsibility of the various websites to check the promotional content which is being shared rampantly.

A senior police officer in Delhi Police cyber cell claimed that the national capital is yet to be affected by these games. Although, in some cases, these games were suspected; but upon investigation, no involvement of such games were found. Meanwhile, in 2017, at a private school in Dwarka, a teacher heard the Blue Whale name from a student and without wasting much time, the principal was informed and a PCR call was made. The child upon counselling disclosed that he knew of the game from the news, after which he was curious to know more. Police claimed that they received a PCR call, after which a team reached the spot and met the boy, who had drawn some kind of a sketch on his hand. Social media handles of various police departments across the country had asked residents to report about any such suspicious links.

NCPCR member, Yashwant Jain, stated that they had written letters regarding suicidal games to authorities of different states with a request to spread awareness. "To fight the menace of suicidal online games such as Momo and Blue Whale, the Commission has developed an application named Cyber Trivia that educates children about the repercussions of suicidal games," said Yashwant Jain.

Dating applications

Earlier this year, on April 10, a hapless father filed a complaint with Delhi Police that somebody had created a fake ID of his minor daughter on a dating application accessing her photographs and phone number along with some offensive and sexually provocative words. This had resulted in several obnoxious calls from various unknown numbers and objectionable WhatsApp messages.

Then DCP (Shahdara) Nupur Prasad, paid keen heed and asked the district cyber cell team to investigate the case. During the course of investigation, the cyber cell pursued the matter and apprehended a juvenile who admitted to the crime and stated that he had created nine or 10 profiles of his classmates on a dating app with obnoxious remarks. The accused would take pictures of his classmates from various social media accounts. "Few days ago the victim had complained the teacher about the accused. To seek revenge of that complaint, he uploaded her photo and personal details in some dating application." said an investigator. In another instance, a married woman claimed that she was harassed through a dating application. Her phone was filled with messages from unknown numbers who asked her to meet. Photographs of the woman were put on the dating application, upon which she was continuously harassed.

Long drawn investigation

Hosted by another country, dating applications with limited security features are becoming unsafe havens of crime. Delhi Police claimed that accruing details regarding the crime is difficult. According to the police, there aren't many security features in the application and anyone can post personal details of any person available on other social media websites, leading to the harassment.

The cyber cell also found that the application was based from another country. In the prior stages of the investigation, the cyber cell could not furnish the details against the profile uploaded on the dating app. "When we visited the domain registrar office, they were unwilling to give us the details as the domain was from another country and they also told us that Indian law is not applicable here, so the data will not be revealed," said the investigator.

With pursuance, as the IP address was obtained from the Internet Service Provider, it came to notice that thousands of numbers are registered on a single dynamic IP at the same date and time as provided by the dating app. The cyber cell further analysed the thousands of numbers and using elimination theory, they pointed out the main number which was used for commissioning the crime.

Reign of suicidal games

A report from Brazil claimed that a teen girl reportedly tried to slash her wrists after death threats were made to her family over the sickening WhatsApp Momo suicide game, whereas two school girls (15) and (16) fell to their deaths in Russia.

In another case, a 14-year-old girl from Chita reportedly threw herself under a commuter train. The police have opened a probe into the Blue Whale link, in connection with the Chita case.

Another report added that the horrifyingly dangerous game has been linked to at least 130 teen deaths across Russia and police in the UK have now started warning parents about the challenge.

Media reports also claimed about the several arrests in the case, a Russian computer geek was allegedly masterminding an evil online game, encouraging vulnerable teenagers to commit suicide. A 26-year-old man was arrested from Moscow after his involvement was found as the administrator of the suicide game Blue Whale. In India too, several suspected and unconfirmed cases were reported from different parts of the country including West Bengal and Mumbai.

Abhay Singh

Abhay Singh

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