What is the Blue Whale challenge on TikTok?

Blue Whale Challenge
Image via Gregory Smith/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A trend with a dark and disturbing history has once against reared its head on TikTok to terrify a new generation of parents and users.

The Blue Whale challenge has been around for years but tends to only appear in brief, viral flare-ups. Its return to TikTok is worrying users, thanks to the challenge’s dangerous history.

History of the Blue Whale challenge

The Blue Whale challenge originally cropped up broadly in 2016 and has resurfaced several times over the years since. When it first appeared, TikTok was still years from becoming a worldwide phenomenon. The optics of this “game” are overtly negative, thanks to its links to self-harm and suicide, so it is often discussed in hushed tones or not at all.

The challenge appears to have originated from several Russian news stories following a teen’s suicide. The teen’s death was linked to a challenge that reportedly presents participants with a range of gradually more dangerous tasks. The initial tasks are often rather innocuous, as the BBC reports, with demands that participants “wake up in the middle of the night” or “watch a scary film.” As participants get deeper into the challenge, however, the tasks become far more menacing. Typically, 50 tasks are performed over the course of the challenge.

Tasks begin to incorporate self-harm and other damaging acts before ultimately culminating in the final act: suicide.

The trend has appeared on social media numerous times since its inception, typically stirring up panic — and very few legitimate cases — before fading into obscurity once again. In total, very few deaths have been definitively linked back to the Blue Whale challenge, but that hasn’t stopped it from inciting alarm around the nation.

What is the Blue Whale challenge on TikTok?

On TikTok, the challenge has taken on a slightly different shape. The few related videos on the platform that haven’t been taken down point to a specific profile picture as an indicator of challenge participants. As described by one user, @Laohlisa, the profile picture depicts a person in a black wig with a large mouse nose secured over their face. The video warns people away from replying to commenters asking if users “wanna play a game,” which @Laohlisa indicates is how people begin playing.

Commenters seem to disagree with this assertion, as does a video posted by a different user just over a year ago. These users indicate that the new profile picture simply depicts a blonde girl in a blue bikini, an image that is intended to make the challenge appear less dangerous than it actually is.

The real fear that seems to be spreading on TikTok regards those that don’t wish to participate. Videos warn that even the disinterested will be forced to participate if they engage with profiles involved in the challenge. One video claims that anyone who clicks a link sent via direct message or comment section will be forced to participate “or they will kill your family and friends.”

What is the real risk behind the Blue Whale challenge?

The only true risk behind the Blue Whale challenge is presented by participants themselves. There have been no reports of people actually getting killed for refusing to participate, and very few suicides have been clearly linked back to the challenge.

If teens choose to participate, however, the challenge has the power to become extremely deadly. This kind of viral challenge relies entirely on word of mouth and actual, legitimate participation, which leaves the future of it entirely in the hands of those who may choose to give the Blue Whale challenge a try.

Higher rates of depression among teens could mean a larger user base for the Blue Whale challenge than we’ve seen in recent years, but the chances of it genuinely taking off and becoming a legitimate danger are very slim. Given the challenge’s prominence over the last several years, this latest appearance will likely echo its predecessors.

It will cause a panic, spur some news reports, and then fade back into obscurity.