Since 2013 there have been rumors of a deadly online game designed to attract teenagers. This “game,” known as The Blue Whale Challenge, began on a Russian social media website similar to Facebook called Vkontakte, or just “VK” for short. Originally known as F57, interested parties were encouraged to seek out an administrator, known as a “master,” to provide them with a set of challenges that the player would have to follow for 50 consecutive days. The player would provide photo or video proof of completing each challenge, designed to slowly break down the player physically and psychologically. When the game was over, the player would die.

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Many believed this game was nothing more than internet lore. It wasn’t until Russian media claimed that at least 130 teens and young adults had died as a result of playing the game that it started to become the focus of an investigation.

At this point, it was unclear how the article’s author made these connections and other investigators still widely considered the game to be a hoax. Never-the-less the claims made in the article caused a moral panic within Russia that would garner worldwide attention.

It was later that same year, in November of 2016, that police arrested Philipp Budeikin AKA “Philipp the Fox.” Budeikin was claimed to have been the mastermind behind at least eight different secret groups on VK, including the infamous F57 group, that were connected to the suicides or attempted suicides of 15 individuals throughout Russia.

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Even after Budeikin’s arrest, rumors of young adults throughout Russia, Ukraine and some parts of Asia participating in the online game persisted. Earlier this year two teenage girls, 15-year-old Yulia Konstantinova and 16-year-old Veronika Volkova, fell to their deaths from a 14-story apartment building. A cryptic image of a blue whale had been posted to one of the teen’s Instagram accounts prior to taking their own life.

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It was after these two tragic deaths that seemed to be conclusively tied to the Blue Whale Challenge that in February of 2017 a correspondent for Radio Free Europe decided to conduct an independent investigation of these groups. The correspondent claims that after tracking down an administrator for the game and expressing an interest in participating he was instructed to carve a whale into his arm. The correspondent used photoshop to create what he believed was a convincing image to prove that he had followed through with the first challenge. The administrator instead ceased all communication.

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Today it is unknown how many groups promoting a game similar to the original Blue Whale Challenge created by Budeikin actually exist. Some believe that copycat versions of the game are on the rise and are now in the US. In July of 2017, the body of 15-year-old Isaiah Gonzalez was found by his parents hanging in his closet in the Texas home the family shared. Propped against the doorframe was a cell phone, which is believed to have been broadcasting his final acts.

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Within days of the Texas teen taking his own life, a second teen from Georgia was found dead after it is believed that she had participated in the online game. The teen, who has not been identified, was described by friends and family as being a gifted artist. Her favorite subject? Blue whales. A number of paintings of blue whales were found in the teen’s room, along with diary entries, some in Russian, describing herself as a blue whale.

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That same month Budeikin would be sentenced by a Siberian court to serve out three years in prison for his hand in creating the deadly game that has since infiltrated social media sites around the world. Budeikin confessed to provoking at least 17 teens to take their own lives, but he was only formally tried for the attempted suicides of two teens who had not completed the challenge.

“There are people, and there is biological waste. Those who do not represent any value for society. Who cause or will cause only harm to society,” Budeikin explained when asked what his motive was behind the game. “I was cleaning our society of such people… It was necessary to distinguish normal [people] from biological rubbish.”