By Robin Ewing
Dec. 7, 2004
In February of 2001, two teen suicides in South Korea attracted international media attention: On the same day in different cities a 13-year-old boy jumped from a 15-story building and a 15-year-old boy poisoned himself. The connection was that both teens spent time on Internet suicide sites. One of the boys found the recipe for poison posted on a site. Friends and family of the boys were quoted saying that each had frequently visited suicide sites. 
Most recently, seven Japanese teenagers and adults in their early 20s killed themselves in a van after meeting and planning the suicides in a suicide chat room in October of this year; on the same day two women in their early 20s were found dead in a car with the same story. 
Internet-assisted suicides are occurring with higher frequency around the world — including Norway, Austria, Germany, Australia, England, Canada and the United States — but the highest concentration is in South Korea and Japan. Most of the cases involve teenagers and young adults.
These “Internet suicides” take different forms. Some people meet in chat rooms and make suicide pacts. One college boy was egged on to suicide while others watched via a web camera. Some find recipes or detailed instructions on the best way to “catch the bus” while others are looking for contract killers to do the job for them.
This phenomenon raises a series of questions for us, as part of a global society, and more specificly, the media, parents and the government. This paper examines the correlation between the Internet and youth suicide and addresses the contemporary social issues and moral dilemmas they have raised within these three realms. This paper is intended as a broad overview of Internet suicide as a complex social issue and does not presume to provide solutions.
The Role of the Internet in Suicide
In Japan in 2003 there were 34 Internet-assisted suicides, and as of October of this year there have been 20.  The World Health Organization reports an !0alarming increase in suicidal behaviours amongst young people aged 15 to 25 years, worldwide.!1 
In Korea , a survey of Internet users reported 26 million users, over half of the population, are online.  In the United States, more than half of school-aged children, age 5 to 17, use the Internet. 
Is the Internet causing suicides or is it just a transference of medium for youths heavily immersed in technology and would have occurred regardless of the existence of the Internet? Arguments on both sides of the question are varied.
Does the Internet create and increases feelings of isolation from the outside world and in turn foster suicidal tendencies? The father of a 22-year-old man whose Internet suicide pact failed said in a newspaper interview, !0Did he attempt to end his life because he had become distanced from the outside world due to the Internet? He had friends, and he didn!/t have an introverted personality, so I don!/t know why he did what he did.!1  Relating with people over a computer eliminates personal contact – even the use of a web camera turns the experience into more of an interactive television show rather than personal communication.
This lack of contact with the outside world and immersion in video games and virtual realities can blur the line between fantasy and reality. In the case of 21-year-old Brandon Vedas his !0virtual friends!1 watched him commit suicide from a drug overdose via a web cam and then called no one. The boy!/s mothers compared it to watching a soap opera and the boy!/s brother sent emails to the watchers asking, !0Why did you goad my brother to take his life then leave as though he as an actor in some grotesque, amateur drama.!1 
In the same newspaper article, his mother also said, !0If he hadn!/t been able to brag to an audience and goaded in return I doubt he would have done it.!1 The anonymity of the Internet lessens fear or embarrassment of confiding feelings and can promote bragging. The final words of Vedas were !0Told u I was hardcore.!1 The author of a study at the Australian Journal of Mental Health said that bragging and saving face play a large role in Internet suicides.  The final posting on ASH (alt.suicide.holiday newsgroup) from 24-year-old suicide victim Michael Benjamins included: !0None of you really knew me as a person, other than through my posts. That’s good. I kind of wanted it that way.!1 
Suicide sites are blamed for providing a medium for people to prey on the vulnerability of depressed young people. ASH  , a !0pro-choice!1 suicide site has been linked to 10 verified and 14 unverified suicides. In one instance the mother of a 17-year-old suicide victim filed a wrongful death charge against a woman who was on the telephone with the boy during his drug overdose. The woman had read the boy!/s posting on ASH and talked to him while he took the drugs. Even though she knew where he lived, she did not contact authorities. 
There is also the argument that suicide sites that post suicide instructions are providing easy-access information to vulnerable children. The !0traditional a.s.h. methods file!1  lists 41 ways to kill yourself. Each entry has notes on length of time to die, availability, certainty and an extra space for notes which include analyses and recommendations. Entries include a recipe for drug overdose, disembowelment, freezing and scuba diving. One example is the case mentioned earlier in which a 15-year-old boy found a recipe for poison and killed himself. In the case of 20-year-old victim Phillip Cranmer police found evidence that another person in a suicide chat room gave him instructions on how to !0catch the bus.!1 
Others say that the information was readily available before the Internet. In the early 1990s, !0The Complete Manual of Suicide!1 was at the top of the Japanese best seller list for over a year. 
The counter argument is that suicide sites provides a network of support for people who feel alienated and depressed in an increasingly technologically global world. By meeting and talking with peers who feel the same way, depressed youths can express their emotions without feeling the embarrassment or frustration of talking to someone who they feel does not understand. In the case of Vedas, the suicide victim was already taking drugs for depression. Would he have committed suicide with or without the Internet?
The Pew Internet and American Life project describes the Internet as !0the telephone, television, game console and radio wrapped up in one for most teenagers.!1  When thought of in this sense, the Internet is less of a new technology as it is a transformation of the familiar. Fear of the Internet is based on technophobia – a fear of technology that generally only affects people who did not grow up with computers. The young today have been linked with computers since childhood. People above the age of 18 in 1994 and 1995 never experienced the Internet from an adolescent perspective. Did we exhibit this same hysteria over the telephone or the automobile?
The traditional ASH greeting is !0Welcome to ASH; sorry you!/re here.!1 Some have interpreted this as promoting suicide but ASH explains it as a greeting of regret. !0In contrast to other suicide support forums, we believe that every person has the right to choose to take his/her own life, if and when (s)he chooses. We do not encourage suicide, but we also do not condemn it.!1 
In Japan, Internet suicides have begun to appear in pop culture. The 2002 film !0The Suicide Club!1 begins with 54 school-girls holding hands and jumping in front of a subway train. Later, the police find a web site with dots that track suicides before they happen. Reviews call the film ridiculous and funny but the underlying social commentary is evident.
Suicide Coverage by the Media
In a news release on suicides, the World Health Organization raises the importance of media coverage of suicide: “Evidence also suggests that media reporting can encourage imitation suicides and we would urge that the media show sensitivity in its reporting on these tragic and frequently avoidable deaths,” writes Dr. Benedetto Saraceno. “The media can also play a major role in reducing stigma and discrimination associated with suicidal behaviours and mental disorders.!1 
Do the media have a responsibility to their readers when covering suicides? In an article in the British publication The Observer a journalist writes of the social responsibility of the press. He reports that in 1999 a newspaper ran an article on antifreeze poisoning detailing the exact instructions. In the next month, nine deaths by antifreeze poisoning occurred, up from the average two per month. 
Another issue is media dramatization. While Internet suicides are disturbing, they make up on a small percentage of total suicide deaths. In Japan , where most of the suicides have occurred, Internet suicides were only 0.1 percent of total suicides in 2003. Some of the effects of dramatization of news, as pointed out by W. Lance Bennett, are distraction from root causes, creation of a false sense of understanding and the promotion of unworkable solutions. !0The news audience is exposed to more fearful images of some of these issues than others – not because they are inherently more or less fearful, but because the conditions conducive to media melodrama come together more coherently around some issues than others.!1  If by dramatizing Internet suicides or glamorizing them, the media end up playing a role in furthering them, then journalists need to create a framework for reporting Internet suicides responsibly.
Suicide Sites and Censorship
In the realm of government, the existence of suicide sites has sparked debate over freedom of speech, the protection of children and the role government should play in censorship.
In 1996 Congress passed the Communications Decency Act which was struck down as unconstitutional in 1997. The law was altered to become the Child Online Protection Act and went into effect in1998. In 1999 the federal district court of Philadelphia found it unconstitutional and that decision was upheld in 2000 in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. In February 2002 the Department of Justice filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to reverse the decision. In 2004, the Supreme Court upheld the block. The Court ruled the laws unconstitutional because !0there is a potential for extraordinary harm and a serious chill upon protected speech.!1  In response, there are numerous web sites calling for laws to regulate Internet sites such as the !0Help Stop Pro-Suicide Internet Sites!1 petition with 668 signatures. 
n the United States suicide sites are not illegal but suicide is a felony in South Carolina. Twenty-six states have outlawed assisted suicide  . In England, helping someone commit suicide carries a penalty up to 14 years in prison.  In South Korea , the government shut down 80 suicide sites in 2002. 
The degree of government regulation varies from country to country. If in countries, such as the United States, in which society values free speech over potential harm in regards to the Internet, then it become the parents!/ role to monitor and educate youths about danger. How can parents determine the degree of involvement they should play in their child!/s online life? And what methods are available?
In a Pew Survey in 2001, 17 million American children between the ages of 12 and 17 were using the Internet and 45 percent of their parents were worried they would do harmful thing on-line. Nearly all of these parents installed Internet filters. 
Suicide rates are rising among children and young adults around the world. Will we see an increase in Internet-assisted suicides? Are suicide sites promoting suicides among vulnerable youths or is the Internet simply a new medium for an old social problem? What role should the media play in covering Internet suicides? What steps should parents and government take and how far should they go to ensure the safety of minors? Where do we draw the line between safety and free speech?
These are all social and moral questions raised in a society in which the Internet is routine for everyone, including children; technophobia is dated; and Internet hysteria is dying.
Postings on Google!/s alt.suicide.holiday group (ASH):
!0i know im !.just 16!/ according to alot of older people.. but i already know how my life is going to turn out. And even tho there might be small episodes of happiness im always going to be depressed and hurting those around me with it. Im just sick of trying to be happy… So i need to know if valium OD is a good method, and if so how much do i take? If not, could someone please share with me any painless.. or semi-painless methods
accessible? preferrably not messy…anyways… thanks to anyone who wasted time to read this. –me!1
!0Sometimes I think we are all writing, posting messages of goodbye, because we don’t want to die, but because we haven’t quite figured out how to live.!1
!0it seems like the japanese have figured it out – why can’t we? i think having partners would make it much less frightening. i wish there was a way around these nasty trolls.!1
!0started reading the methods guide when I was 10 (Morbid 10yr old) I was 12-13 when i got up the nerve to start posting. I’ve met many interesting people through here. Personally I am amazed to still be around these days but reading the posts here makes me realize I’m not alone in my struggles with life. There is no judgement here!& I’m 15 now, and can Honestly say I am grateful this group exists. I would be lost or long gone if it wasnt around. Ash is my life preserver….my guide….and the door to eternity…..I’m just rambling aloud!1
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O, Youn-hee, !0Dark side of the cyber world,!1 the Korea Herald, 17 July 2004, Lexis-Nexis Database, (5 December 2004
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 ASH http://ash.spaink.net/
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 Pew Internet and American Life Project, !0Teenage Life On-line.