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After A Viral Self-Harm Challenge Spread, These People Created A Game To Deter Teen Suicide

The "spread" of the Blue Whale Challenge has inspired people around the world to try to create positive online games.

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Earlier this year, a shocking internet trend called the Blue Whale Challenge attracted international attention.

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The internet "game" — which involves participants sharing a series of instructions on how to harm themselves that end in suicide — was blamed for the deaths of several teens in Russia and the United States.

The challenge was said to have been inspired by pages on VK — Russia's largest social network — shared by Russian teen Rina Palenkova shortly before her own suicide.

It's believed the challenge started in Russia in 2016. Several news outlets have reported that the challenge has since "spread" around the world.

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So far, though, it remains unclear if the game can be connected to any suicides.

People are now creating their own anti-Blue Whale Challenges to try to combat it.

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The first anti-challenge appears to have originated in Brazil. It's called Baleia Rosa, or "Pink Whale."

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Pink Whale was started by 30-year-old Ana Paula Hoppe and 28-year-old Rafael Tiltscher. They told BuzzFeed News that they came up with the idea after they read about the challenge online.

"I googled 'blue whale,' saw the challenges, and then thought, Wow, we need to do something about it," Hoppe said.

Pink Whale follows a similar pattern to the Blue Whale game by asking players to complete a series of daily challenges designed to promote positive ideas, like completing homework or helping around the house.

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"Give hugs."

Hoppe said they wanted to provide help for teens who might have seen the Blue Whale Challenge or the TV show 13 Reasons Why — which has been criticized for turning a story of suicide into a revenge fantasy.

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"Plant a seed."

Hoppe and Tiltscher said they got messages from young people looking for help immediately after starting the Pink Whale page.

In response, they actually hired a psychologist to answer the messages.

"People started to send messages asking for help, children who were hurting themselves and even the people who were thinking about taking your lives," she said.

They also paid for targeted Facebook ads to spread word of the challenge. Since it was started in mid April, the page has grown to over 300,000 followers.

The Pink Whale Challenge got so popular it's spawned a book and an app.

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Right now, Hoppe and Tiltscher are trying to work out how to make the game last past a series of challenges.

"At some point we think the challenges will end — I think we've done all that could be done, so we are studying what we can do, following our first idea, maybe something focused on bullying, try to reach other people," she said. "Always thinking how we can make people think about the other."

The idea quickly spread across South America, though in less serious forms. in Argentina, there was a "humorous" version of the game, the Green Whale Challenge.

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Anti-challenges are appearing all over the world now. British YouTuber HiggyPop set up an email service that sends daily Pink Whale challenges to participants.

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The YouTuber, whose real name is Steve Higgins, told BuzzFeed News that he was actually unaware of Pink Whale games prior to his own.

He said he had written about Blue Whale "and noticed in the comment section of the page that most people seemed to be wanting to find/play it rather than just read about it.

"By this point I was getting around 20,000-30,000 visits to the Blue Whale content on my page a day. So I decided to try and do something positive with all the traffic."

Higgins said there are now 16,000 people participating in his version of the challenge.

I wanted to play the #bluewhalechallenge but i received a #pinkwhalechallenge instead. IT'S MORE FUN THAN HARMING… https://t.co/IvM56GpFHo

This version of the challenge originated when CreepyPastaPunch created a video about Blue Whale, and a commenter suggested they start a nicer game to combat it.

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"Let's start the #BrownOwl Challenge, where each participant has to do good deeds such as: "Hug your parents" or "Smile at people for a whole day" to tackle some of the BlueWhale Challenge and also make the people happier and nicer! :)"

The YouTuber uses the account to post challenges every few days.

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"Post a picture of a person or item that is very important and close to your heart!

Show the world what's important to you and you will realize what you can be thankful for and what you own."

Helen Schmidt, a 16-year-old from Saarbrucken, Germany, told BuzzFeed News that she started playing the Brown Owl Challenge because she wanted to make the world a better place.

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"I do the challenge as I want the world to be a happier place and want to spread positivity, for me and for others," she said.

Both Instagram and Tumblr are attempting to block the spread of Blue Whale on their respective platforms.

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A spokesperson for Instagram said the Blue Whale Challenge hashtag is being blocked because violates community guidelines.

A Tumblr representative also said that the tag was being used on images which contained upsetting content. "The BWC-related terms were added to the self-harm query pool back in May when we learned about the challenge," said a spokesperson for Tumblr.

Original Pink Whale Challenge cocreator Hoppe said that despite the success of their anti-challenge, change will only come when people begin having open conversations about suicide.

"Our main TV channel doesn't talk about suicide — that is bizarre, thinking about the numbers," she said. "At this moment we're sure that the project needs to get bigger."

If you are feeling at risk of suicide or if you are worried about someone else call the Samaritans on116 123 (UK) or 116 123 (ROI).

If you’re in the United States you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Rachael Krishna is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Rachael Krishna at rachael.krishna@buzzfeed.com.

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