Lancashire Mind charity urges people to find 'positive support' as Post reports on the disturbing world of 'cybersuicide'

It’s the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer, heart disease and road accidents.

Friday, 18th September 2020, 3:47 pm
Call the Samaritans on 116 123

It doesn’t discriminate, devastating families of every race, religion, nationality or social background.

And now, you can watch it - graphic and live - on a computer screen.

Every 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide and it is becoming increasingly prevalent. In Lancashire alone, between 2017 and 2019, 402 people lost their lives to suicide.

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Widespread concerns were triggered last week by the graphic video of an American man committing suicide on Facebook Live.

The horrific footage has snowballed across the internet to reach just about every major platform, such as TikTok, Twitter, Instagram and now YouTube, where the man’s image ran alongside ads and attracted thousands more views.

Sometimes another user has edited the beginning with innocuous footage - evading automatic moderation - which then cuts to the moment of the man’s death.

‘Cybersuicides’ have emerged as a disturbing issue in recent years, but it remains a tricky phenomenon to regulate, with failures to remove content and few, if any, prosecutions for those who encourage people to harm themselves.

Despite various policies and measures, web platforms can’t seem to stop the spread of such content.

According to Facebook’s Community Standards, the company has been advised not to remove live videos of ‘self-injury while there is an opportunity for loved ones or other bodies to provide help or resources’.

The abuses of internet features or resources have played roles in suicides for many years.

15 years ago the Post launched a campaign to tackle the misuse of internet and online booksellers in providing access to suicide methods and, in certain chat rooms, bullying and encouragement from web users.

Between 2001 and 2008 the United Kingdom lost at least 15 teenagers to internet related suicide, including Penwortham woman Sarah Cherry, who had purchased a notorious book from an online retailer after discussing suicide in an internet chat room.

The Lancashire Evening Post started a campaign and investigation - Stop the pedlars of death - in response to the development of websites and chat rooms promoting suicide methods or counselling web users to commit suicide - and online booksellers trading suicide manuals.

One site had encouraged suicide and cannibalism as a way to ‘save the world’ from overpopulation.

In 2005 a reporter posed as two children on a forum after a man had offered to ‘help’ vulnerable people kill themselves by administering a substance and suffocating them.

Lancashire Police subsequently traced an IP address to a bank worker at a flat in Westminster and charged him with attempting to abet suicide.

It resulted in a landmark prosecution in which he was tried at Preston Crown Court.

At that time the 1961 Suicide Act was too archaic to take internet based offences into account and not guilty pleas were directed.

But partly as a result of the campaign, the law was later updated to account for defendants who incite suicide over the internet, and web providers like Google changed their search result system to bring up sites such as the Samaritans first if anyone typed in ‘suicide’.

The Post spoke to many bereaved families during the campaign whose children had followed methods they accessed online, or were encouraged by others.

In 2007 dad-of-two Kevin Whitrick, from Shropshire, killed himself live on a webcam while using a ‘friendly insult’ chat room, while around 60 other people were using it.

In July, Jonathan ‘Bazza’ Bailey, 50, from Staffordshire, said he was going to kill himself during a Facebook live stream, and viewers are believed to have alerted Facebook to the situation.

Officers passed a file about the death to the Crown Prosecution Service which decided there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against any individual.

The concerns around publicity of any suicide, including those streamed online, are that it might encourage copycat incidents.

Helen Fairweather Head of Development at Lancashire Mind said: “ Whilst the internet can be an excellent source of support if used appropriately, we are aware that there are websites and online forums where already vulnerable people may be discouraged from seeking support and, in worse case scenarios, their suicidal behaviour may be encouraged.

“It’s not only this deliberate mistreatment of people that concerns us but also the flippant, throw away comments that people make on more popular platforms that can also harm people, whether or not this was the intention.

“If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, it’s important to speak to someone and the internet can be a great tool for communication particularly if you feel unable to speak to someone face to face.

“However, we would encourage people to find positive supports who genuinely care about keeping them safe. You can reach out for support from trusted organisations such as the Samaritans, Papyrus, Young Minds and Hub of Hope.

She added: “We can only reduce the number of deaths by suicide if we act together as a community and make it easier for people experiencing suicidal thoughts to talk about it.

“If you’re communicating with someone online and are concerned about some of the things they’re saying, don’t be afraid to ask, “are you thinking about suicide?” - this can often be the first step in giving someone permission to talk about how they feel and getting the support they need.”

FOR SUPPORT: Call the Samaritans on 116 123 or log on to Healthier Lancashire & South Cumbria ICS’s ‘Let’s Start The Conversation’ page.