Monday, November 24, 2008

Smells like teen suicide

(via ORG-Discussion list and various other sources) A teenager in Florida has committed suicide while webcasting the event on video website Reportedly, as many as 1,500 people were witnesing the event at one time, and some even encouraged the teenager with messages like this one: "Do it, do the world a favour and stop wasting our time with your mindless self-pity."

I have been following the strange obsession that the British media has with the Internet and suicide. I am usually puzzled by the over-the-top technophobic tone with which these news are often portrayed. For example, The Times informs us that:

"According to one charity that works to prevent suicide, there have been at least 17 deaths in Britain since 2001 involving chatrooms or sites that give advice on suicide methods."
Sounds like an epidemic! However, one has to place these figures in context. Young-male suicide is at a 30-year low, while in 2006 5,554 people committed suicide in the UK. In the grand scheme of things, internet-related suicide is negligible. As someone mentioned in an online mailing list, it would be interesting to try to determine if online communities are acting also as a deterrent by offering suicidal people an environment where they can find support.

Perhaps one day there will be measured coverage of sad events such as this one.


Ruairidh said...

Having had a friend recently attempt suicide I can sympathise with the situation.

However, my friend was stopped killing himself after local friends he met on an online community came over to his house (after calling the police) and stopped him from hanging himself.

I think the most important question would be whether the teenager would have killed himself without the access to chatrooms (and a webcam feed) and whether the tragedy would have been given as much attention from the media had this been the case.

Andres Guadamuz said...

Thanks for the story Ruairidh, you are correct, we never hear about the many instances where the internet has saved someone's life.