June 14 2008

Who Do You Blame In A Suicide

lessonThere is no doubt that suicides are tragic occurrences, and those left behind are always left to wonder, “why?” However, for as far back as I can remember, people have always tried to blame some current popular trend that the person was involved in for the tragedy. Well, it’s the 21st century, so it has to be social networks.

Over at Mashable, fellow writer Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins has been following a rash of suicides that people are trying to blame on the people all having accounts on the Bebo network. The story first began in January and, tragically, another death has been linked to the “chain” of suicides this month.

When this news first came to our attention back in January, it was due to the suicide of 17-year-old Natasha Randall. (Mind you that six men had committed suicide over the past year, but it takes the death of a girl to make the police finally have to come up with a “common thread”?) Within 24-hours of her death, two 15-year-old female friends of Ms. Randall also attempted suicide, but luckily both of them failed. After each death, there were memorial walls set up online for the victims, which led to Bridgend MP Madeleine Moon to claim that this may have been the motivation for the people to take their own lives. Of course, Ms. Moon also contradicts herself by saying:

“I have long wondered about all of these websites. People will post information, post photographs, they will post contact details that they would never have walked into a local pub and done themselves, but they will post them online to total strangers. That is crazy,” she said.

“What worries me is that we have got a problem that we have had for some time in Bridgend, which is a problem with young male suicides. Friends of those people are, as a result, being confronted with a huge range of emotions of grief and loss for the first time.

So, which is it? A long time problem of young male suicides, or the fact that people are going on social networks desiring memorial walls? Ah, who knows, never let sense get in the way of a politician trying to act concerned.

clarke and randallAll of the victims in the “Bebo chain” through January lived in the same area of the UK, and some knew each other in person, as shown to the right. Luckily some people, non-politicians, realize that the social networks probably play no real factor in the deaths. Darren Matthews, director of the Bridgend Samaritans, a group dedicated to helping people considering suicide in the UK & Ireland, said in the same The Times piece:

“We are in real danger of creating this negative effect where people who are loners feel: ‘I can go out with a bang – everyone will know that I have gone.’ That is not just the internet. That is in many different types of the media,” he said.

He also went on to say that the social networks themselves are not to blame. What a concept.

There is a well known psychology syndrome known as the Werther effect, or more commonly known as “copycat suicide”, and with the first group all being in the same area, it is easy to believe that the Werther effect would have applied. With the latest suicide, considering the new region, and the length of time, it is probably completely unrelated to the previous cases, but never let that stop a politician from jumping in. Oh… hello again, Ms. Moon.

Bridgend’s Labour MP Madeleine Moon said memorial pages on Bebo and other websites showed “some sort of romanticism of death”.

“What is concerning is that you’re getting internet bereavement walls. That’s not going to help anyone,” she told The Times.

Well, my theory is it has nothing to do with a “romanticism of death”, it is merely how people are dealing with a death of someone they knew.  As for her saying that it doesn’t help anyone, my question would be, “Why?  Why doesn’t it help anyone?”  Is this any different than a high school putting up a banner for people to sign their name to when a fellow student dies?  This is merely the 21st century version of that, but because its modern, it must be wrong.

This has been going on for decades, if not longer.  Remember when seeing Elvis’ gyrating hips would cause young girls to have pre-marital sex?  Remember when Dungeons & Dragons was only played by Satan worshipers?  How about when the heavy metal band Judas Priest was put in trial for “subliminal messages” leading to two of their fans committing suicide?

In the case of Mr. Lesson, it was learned after his death that he had been bullied via Bebo, leading to people calling for more controls on social networking to curb bullies.  Well, let me get a little personal for a moment, when I was a small child I was bullied endlessly for being “the fat kid”.  I was called names, I was punched, I was held down and whipped with desert plant leaves until I had welts on my back… where were the politicians to help stop this?  (before anyone asks, the moment my parents would find out, they got involved, they never did not try their best to end it)  When I got harassed by phone for being “the fat kid”, where were the politicians to blame it on the phone company?

This is almost like the problems with music piracy: it has always existed, there is just a way for more people to know about it now.  I went through bullying for being fat, for playing D&D, for reading comic books, for being a punk, for being a headbanger, for walking down the street… there will always be a reason for people to bully someone, and there will always be the bullies to do it.  Considering that Bebo is one of the most popular social networks in the UK, so saying that Bebo was the connecting thread is almost like saying that the connecting thread was having a cell phone.

beboAgain, I am sorry all of these people saw this as a solution to their problems, and maybe Ms. Moon is sincere, but somehow I think this is another case of a politician trying to latch on to a hot button topic and making themselves look modern.  Bebo , and social networks in general, are no more of a thread here than just about every young person has a profile on them.    How about instead of trying something, anything, to blame, why don’t we take the time to just hug our kids, sit down with them and ask them how their day was?  How about moving the computer to a common room where you can watch over their shoulder, and keep a better grasp on what they are doing?

I know, there I go being crazy again suggesting that parents should be involved in their children’s lives… I’m crazy like that.

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