Blue Whale Challenge: Google, Facebook must take down content that abets suicide
While efforts should always be to maintain the freedom of the Internet, self regulations by Internet content providers such as Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Microsoft and Yahoo, along with legal mechanisms should regulate content like the Blue Whale Challenge that impacts society at largeUpdated: Aug 17, 2017, 14:26 IST
On August 11, the central government’s ministry of electronics and information technology (MEITY) sent a letter to Internet content providers such as Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Microsoft and Yahoo to immediately remove the links of the online game Blue Whale Challenge, which has led to the suicide of children in India and many other countries.
This game allegedly comprises of a series of tasks assigned to players by administrators during a 50-day period with physical and mental tasks, and the final challenge envisaging the player to commit suicide. A public interest litigation (PIL) was also filed before the Delhi High Court on August 16 against the game seeking immediate directions to restrain Internet majors and social media from uploading content pertaining to it and also seeking direction to the Delhi Police to appoint a special team to oversee whether these companies complied with the court’s orders.
On the same day, the Chief Justice of India remarked how the Blue Whale Challenge was proof of human gullibility while hearing the Kerala ‘love jihad’ case. Mumbai and Midnapore police have reported a suicide each due to the online game and the case of the suicide of the Kerala teenager is under similar suspicion.
While the MEITY has sprung into action and rightly so, the role of the online community needs to be questioned.
All the Internet majors who have been issued the letter by the ministry are intermediaries under the Information Technology Act 2008 and guided by the provisions of Section 79, which defines their liability. As per Section 79, sub section 3 (b), the MEITY letter should get these intermediaries to remove the link to the deadly game. But there would still be many others and proxy servers that could allow the game to be available and so it will be prudent to link the availability of the game to abetment to suicides defined under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code. Clearly the administrators of the game are abetting the suicide as it is a task under the game but since suicide is unlawful under Indian laws and in all jurisdictions, the online availability and spread should also be considered as an abetment and thus dealt with.
Besides the legal steps to make the intermediaries act, it is also imperative upon them to proactively take down such content at the first notice and provide no links. Most of them swear by their terms and conditions and definitely any content that abets suicide should be covered by those provisions and if not, they should forthrightly incorporate them.
It will also be pertinent to mention here that Philipp Budeikin, the self-proclaimed founder of the game in 2013 has already been arrested and has pleaded guilty to inciting at least 16 teenage girls to commit suicide and also forced Russia to amend the suicide prevention legislation last year. Since the first suicide reported back in 2015, now more than 100 such deaths have been reported from across the world, particularly among teenagers.
While efforts should always be to maintain the freedom and openness of the Internet, efforts at self regulation and also legal mechanisms should be there to address such forms of content that can impact society at large. Clearly the Blue Whale Challenge is less of a challenge and more of a trap to lure vulnerable sections to physical harm and suicide. It has to be stopped.
Subimal Bhattacharjee writes on cyberspace issues
The views expressed are personal