Russian social network Vkontakte, where the suicidal online "game" Blue Whale+ is believed to have originated, was blocked on certain internet service provider networks on Tuesday.
The article by Kim Arora was published in the Times of India on September 12, 2017.
Internet users accessing the website through ACTFibernet in Bengaluru and Chennai, as well as YouBroadband in Bengaluru reported that visiting the its URL vk.com resulted in a page bearing the message: "The URL has been blocked as per the instructions of the Competent Government Authority/in compliance to the orders of the Court of Law." A senior official in the union ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) confirmed the block.
"Vkontakte has been blocked temporarily. We understand that it has been used for Blue Whale+ in the past, and are trying to ascertain its current usage. Law enforcement agencies are investigating the suspected cases of Blue Whale suicides and the modus operandi. We have held meeting with internet companies. We are taking several multi-dimensional ways of containing the Blue Whale threat in India," says Dr Ajay Kumar, additional secretary at the MeitY.
While blocked on some networks, vk.com was accessible on several other mobile internet networks such as Idea, Airtel, Vodafone, Jio etc on Tuesday afternoon.
The Blue Whale challenge involves a "curator" or "administrator" guiding a participant through a set of tasks involving self-harm culminating in suicide. These interactions happen through various online channels, like messaging apps or social networks, and allegedly involve participants uploading pictures after completing tasks like inflicting cuts on their bodies. In the last two to three months, India has seen several cases of young persons and teenagers attempting or committing suicide allegedly as part of the Blue Whale challenge.
Rohini Lakshane, program officer at Bengaluru's Centre for Internet and Society points to the lack of hard evidence definitively connecting the suicides to the Blue Whale game in India, and also to hoax-debunking websites that have questioned the veracity of the game. "If the game is so clandestine, then URL-level blocking will not work. Suicide is a mental health issue. Since the affected group here is teenagers, it would make sense for parents and school counselors to educate the children about the evils that exist online," she says.