A simple initiative started last November to increase mental-health awareness in India has decided to focus on the Blue Whale Challenge, a sinister online game that has allegedly led to the deaths of many children.
The game targets and coerces kids, mostly vulnerable teens, to participate in a series of dares, 50 in all, in which participants must broadcast on various social-media sites after they have completed the tasks. The game culminates in participants killing themselves.
“As we approach a world where children are getting more and more solo time, courtesy their devices and the internet, we need to understand the mental and emotional experiences they go through as individuals, especially when an adult is not directly supervising them,” says Anshuma Kshtrapal, founder, Color of Grey Cells, which is into creative psychotherapy.
A phenomena like the Blue Whale “needs to be looked at something that doesn’t just feed off a child’s vulnerability, but our ignorance as adults about understanding what those vulnerabilities are”, she told BusinessLine, adding: “By the time the challenge faded, few were aware that its virality could be linked to poor mental health in children.”
Teaming up with Dentsu Webchutney, the digital advertising agency from Dentsu Aegis Network’s Project Re-Search, Color of Grey Cells decided to go beyond the challenge.
“India has the highest number of Google searches globally for the Blue Whale Challenge, close to 60 per cent,” says PG Aditya, Senior Creative Director, Webchutney. “Even after the media sensation around the game died down, user interest continued to be high here,” he said.
Interestingly, adults in India contributed to 57 per cent of the overall search volume for the game on Google – about 1.4 million times per month.
After the news of the game and consequent suicides became sensational, page one of Google’s search results was about the game and not on the exact reasons that led to the suicidal tendencies.
“What we noticed was the entire first page of Google’s search results barely gave parents or children information that pointed to the challenge’s links with mental health,” says Aditya. “It meant that more and more adults actively looking up information around this complex, new threat, were uninformed,” he said.
Every Google search around ‘Blue Whale’ was directed to a search for mental health instead. “This also meant that, for the first time, we had the opportunity to speak to Indians across the length and breadth of the country about issues they had been ignoring, say mental health, through an issue they were interested in, like the Blue Whale Challenge,” said Aditya.
Webchutney’s initiative directed the attention the game was receiving on to mental wellness.
The initiative first identified the top 22 game keywords and targeted advertisements only to users above 18 years, searching Google with these keywords.
The ads led users to a landing page, which introduced them to certain mental-health stressors that the game could have been feeding off.
Through an analysis of the existing media reports of the nature of challenges the game allegedly contained, “we formed a vocabulary of mental stressors that children go through, which a game of this nature may take advantage of like depression, anxiety, bullying in schools, juvenile aggression and lack of communication between parents and children”, said Aditya.
Incidentally, terms like depression and anxiety had about 5-10 per cent of the searches than ‘Blue Whale’.
Soon, Google’s data showed searches for six out of the seven mental health-related keywords soared at least by 15 per cent to 100 per cent after the campaign diverted traffic from the game-related searches to relevant topics around mental health.