Content warning: mentions of self-harm, suicide.

2020 has seen dozens of viral Instagram challenges, from the free-form Bingo and Challenge Accepted challenges to the more specific Until Tomorrow, Bill Clinton Albums, and Vogue challenges.

But there has also been a more sinister, troubling current of Instagram challenges that involve cyberbullying and encourage self-harm. I’m talking about the new 6inner Challenge and the Blue Whale Challenge that it copied.

What are the 6inner Challenge and Blue Whale Challenge?

There are variations of each challenge that have been active on social media, especially Instagram. But all of the versions come down to a basic formula: in the Blue Whale Challenge, participants are encouraged to engage in all sorts of harmful activity in a series of escalating challenges, culminating in participants taking their own lives. Most of the time, strangers engage accounts on social media and threaten them with harm to their information, friends, or family if they don't comply with the challenge.

The 6inner Challenge is a variant on the BWC with a similar risk. It often starts with a stranger messaging a person on Instagram, giving them “challenges” or “games” to participate in, collecting personal & sensitive information from them, and ultimately threatening with releasing the sensitive information if they don’t comply with the challenges. While the culprits may be young troublemakers instead of skilled hackers, the people involved in the challenge intends to put participants at risk.

How to stay safe from the 6inner Challenge, BWC, and other dangerous challenges

There are always plenty of reasons to be wary of all your social media interactions, especially with people you don’t know & trust. But in the case of these manipulative, insidious challenges that can put participants at severe risk, social media users need to be especially cautious. Here are some rules of thumb to keep in mind for safely participating in internet trends:

1. Look up the challenge name on Google

This is most likely how you arrived at this article in the first place, but you should make a practice of it no matter what. Whether you came across a challenge or trend in a post, a DM, or just by hearsay, always follow it up with a quick Google search. If there’s anything suspicious about the challenge, someone will have said something about it, and you can figure out everything you need to know before getting involved.

People on the internet will always be looking out for vulnerable social media users and issuing warnings

Plus, if you want to participate in an innocuous challenge like the Vogue Challenge or Until Tomorrow Challenge, you can often find insider information or customizable Instagram templates by looking up the challenge beforehand. No matter what the trend is, it’s helpful to check it out first.

2. Only interact with people you know well

I know, you’ve heard it a million times… don’t talk to strangers on the internet. But sometimes it’s worth a reminder: even mutuals and casual online acquaintances can get people involved in bad trends.

If you want to be extra careful, just turn off your DM's. 

Your best bet is always to interact only with the people you really know & trust. And if you want to be especially cautious, you can simply turn off your direct messages. On Instagram, you can just use the menu button in the top right corner of your profile and go to your settings.  Choose “notifications,” then “direct messages,” and turn off either your message requests, messages, or both.

3. Don’t watch the Instagram Stories of people you don’t know

Watching an Instagram Story may seem perfectly innocuous, but you should keep in mind that Instagram users, even those with no connection to you, have access to the people that watch their Stories. This is often the way that cyber-bullies recruit victims on Instagram – sending DM’s to the accounts that view their Challenge Stories. Watching the Stories doesn’t necessarily put you at any risk in itself, but it’s best to simply stay away and play it safe.

I hope you feel comfortable interacting on social media without the threat of danger or informational risk. But in the case of the 6inner Challenge and Blue Whale Challenge, it's best to stay away from social media users who intend to do harm to challenge victims.