For all of the benefits derived from the growth of the Internet, there are some distinct drawbacks. There probably aren’t too many who will disagree with that one. There’s a ready access to pornography for one. But especially considering that suicide ranks so high in prevalence, especially among certain groups, the Internet is probably one of the most dependable sources for information about how to kill oneself. This is particularly the case with the rise of the Internet and websites that promote suicide and even provide easy and effective answers for how to do it. There are even many sites that tell those in search of information discussion forums and even chat rooms for “suicide groupies.” In these areas they can even be found encouraging susceptible people to kill themselves when they might have otherwise sought help. This obviously brings to mind a situation that many would find troubling: What to do in the course of working on their computer a parent or other responsible party finds search criterion for slit wrist, how to slit your wrists, slitting your wrists, or any number of other methods commonly used to accomplish the same result.
One of the big problems with the Internet is the grim example it offers for those who find online suicide sites. A good example of this is a man in Great Britain who was convicted in 2011 of laying in wait in suicide chat rooms for vulnerable people to comment on suicide. Posing as a depressed woman, he would encourage others to take their own lives. He was ultimately convicted of only two death, one taking place in Britain in 2005, and the other in Canada in 2008, but authorities suspect that he might have affected more since he used as his modus operendi falsely entering into suicide pacts with these and others he met online.
The Real Impact?
But if you were to find a search criterion on your computer’s browser for online suicide sites, what would be the real impact? Obviously, the Internet has become a primary source of information for most young people, including those who would take advantage of the proliferation of suicide information sites, forums and chat rooms, but the real impact that these sites have on those who use them is really up for debate.
Some experts warn that the real danger of these sites is in producing suicide clusters, which is what frequently happens when waves of these events take place in response to reports about suicides that are particularly telling. the trouble with these is that although they end up producing these waves of suicides, there is really little if anything experts can do to either predict them or deal effectively with them. We should also not forget the fact that in the case of attempted suicides, not all of them are reported, so dealing with these is virtually impossible. One possible solution to this problem might be to make sure that susceptible people are provided with support that they otherwise might lack.
Another problem we have to deal with regarding suicide websites is the wide range of quality of these sites, since they often vary widely in quality. Especially frustrating is the fact that even though anti-suicide sites are often created that have very high quality content and presentation, there are probably just as many pro-suicide sites on the Internet. In many cases, anti-suicide websites offer very high quality support services and intervention referrals, but pro-suicide sites also offer advice on slitting wrists and other methods of suicide that are very accurate. Not only that, but many of these sites offer mail-order “suicide kits” that they will send just for the asking, often including a free copy of “Final Exit,” the “bible” for those pro-suicide advocates.
Unfortunately, the nature of Internet search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Ask, and others is that they produce search results with no regard for the intent of the user, only giving these results in response to the keywords entered.
A study published recently in the Journal Crisis took a look at the impact that Internet sites had on those who were potentially suicidal. This study, conducted by Hajime Sueki of Tokyo’s Wako University, presented the results of two online surveys that screened people who were at imminent risk for suicide. The people were provided with the links of suicide prevention websites. In a second survey, of the 1,000 participants, 850 surveys were completed (429 females and 421 males) and the final analysis showed that those with suicidal tendencies such as ideation, depression, anxiety, and loneliness are very affected by certain types of suicide-related Internet use. It was determined that Internet use of these sites increased significantly in those people with the above-mentioned characteristics. This is contrary to what many believed prior to the study that Internet use would increase exposure to support-related information that is just as easily obtained on the web as pro-suicide information.
Likewise, recent research conducted in the United States, Japan and Taiwan revealed that suicide rates and Google searches have a close association. In fact, in all three countries, a close positive association can be found for several suicide associated queries and the suicide rate in that country.
Beyond Basic Information
So, you find “slit wrist” on your computer search engine results. How disturbed should a parent or other responsible person be? Ideally, a great deal, or so several studies have determined since certain kinds of Internet activities appear to have a strong impact on suicide ideation. Obviously, not only does visiting these types of websites affect a susceptible person’s actions, but it should also be noted that the variety of the materials seen–information as well as videos, for example–is also influenced by the frequency that they are accessed. As a result, a vicious cycle is started and maintained by those who are depressed and suicidal as well as viewing certain Internet content.
Other Cultures, Other Results?
One of the most frequently asked questions in response to these statistics is that they reflect the Japanese culture and none other. As a result, what is the impact in other cultures? Unfortunately, in studies conducted thus far, the same impact is reflected in virtually every country where the studies have been done and where the Internet is widely available and used.
It is also important to those that there are those who can easily be classified as “heavy Internet users” as opposed to lesser users or non-Internet users. This correlation has not been seen and could be substituted for other information retrieval methods. Age could also be a factor in determining who is using the Internet for these types of resources, since younger people tend to be much more Internet/computer savvy than older adults.
So What Can Be Done?
What can be done to counter the impact of the Internet on these susceptible people is difficult to answer. After all, first the Internet is unregulated, which means that whatever is there is there, and little can be done about it. Even for those sites which have pro-suicide information on them, there is the First Amendment and associated laws protecting them. Despite this, action should be taken to prevent the harm that these sites can potentially cause. Not only should proper policing be allowed to take place, but perhaps search engines should develop methods of blocking pro-suicide sites. It is important to note that now Google refers anyone who is searching for suicide related information is referred to assistance websites.
The problem with the status quo is obvious. Despite the fact that suicide prevention websites provide very valuable information for those who are contemplating these actions, the Internet is still a veritable minefield of websites that are dedicated to assisting those who might do harm to themselves. Unfortunately, until we learn to develop better methods of controlling pro-suicide website access as well as providing more help to those considering suicide, the epidemic as it stands today is likely to continue.