Internet Suicide Pacts May Be Sensationalized, Still Present Problem
> 5/23/2007 11:20:25 AM

The open nature of online networking has, in disparate societies worldwide, begun to facilitate an unthinkable trend: multiple-party suicide pacts born in chatrooms and on websites featuring instructions and encouragement for those looking to end their own lives. Despite the simultaneous presence of numerous help sites for those considering suicide, the prevalence of serious discussions regarding whether or not individuals should go through with the act, as well as detailed advice on how and where to do it, is extremely disturbing. And it plays a central role in the deaths of thousands of young people, many of whom may not have gone through with their plans otherwise.

The latest update on the story comes from South Korea, where the trend seems to hold increasing sway over youth culture. Two young women, formerly strangers, recently died by carbon monoxide poisoning in the same apartment after meeting online. Some argue that the sensational nature of such incidents has led to a disproportionate amount of media coverage and, in turn, inspired even more similar cases. The rapid advances of a society like South Korea's quickly asserting its place in the modern, technologically driven market only intensify pressures for young people to succeed academically and professionally. These pressures supposedly leading many to premature, self-induced death, and groups of students have organized protests following certain cases, placing blame on institutional systems and claiming that the hyper-competitive atmosphere of many Korean high schools and colleges leads to a sense of hopelessness and diminished self-worth wherein students feel they have become lost in the surrounding shuffle. Law enforcement officials and internet providers have made attempts to curb the grisly numbers by shutting down the offending sites as soon as they're discovered, but participants often anticipate such actions, closing down their sites and communicating via phone and email once they've found each other.

Though Korea, according to official government figures, has considerably higher suicide rates than those of the United States (they've almost doubled in the last five years), they are hardly alone in bearing the tragic weight of this relatively new phenomenon. The first confirmed internet suicide pact took place in Japan in the year 2000, and Japan's suicide rates have always been among the highest in the world. Again, this fact is often attributed to the cut-throat nature of the country's business and academic sectors. 32,000 Japanese citizens committed suicide in 2004-more than twenty times the number who died by murder over the same period. But suicide plots have recently arisen in Britain, Australia and the United States as well. 

The most unfortunate aspect of this phenomenon is the fact that many individuals who may initially hesitate to kill themselves in solitude often seek others in order to facilitate the act, for a sense of comraderie can embolden one considering suicide, particularly in the context of physical proximity. This sort of pact has, in the past, been extremely rare, accounting for less than 1% of all suicides. But while the internet cannot be directly blamed for the rising numbers, it has certainly provided an outlet for those whose voices previously went unheard. In the past, the vast majority of suicide pacts occurred between two older adults who knew each other well. The web allows for total strangers to unite over their plans and encourage each other. The only good thing that could come from this horrifying development is an increased awareness of the signs and implications of suicidal ideation. Parents, teachers and law enforcement officials clearly need to place more emphasis on identifying those at risk and responding to their needs as quickly and efficiently as possible. If coordinated efforts to this end do not develop quickly, the number of tragedies splayed across major papers and mentioned on nightly newscasts will only continue to rise.

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