Not Saussure

September 10, 2006

There ought to be a law…

Filed under: civil liberties, Internet, Mental Health, Panic, Suicide — notsaussure @ 2:59 am

BBC NEWS | Health | Call to ban pro-suicide websites
Call to ban pro-suicide websites

The government should make it illegal for internet sites to incite or advise people on how to commit suicide, a charity says.

Papyrus, set up to tackle young suicide, said the risk posed by pro-suicide websites was not being taken seriously enough.

The charity said the 1961 Suicide Act should be amended to make it illegal to publish such material on the web.

The government said it was looking at how rules could be tightened.

At the moment, the law says it is illegal to aid, abet, counsel, procure or incite someone to commit suicide, but to be successfully prosecuted the individual has to have knowledge and participated in the suicide.

The charity said it was aware of nearly 20 internet-related suicides cases in the UK in the last five years.

Papyrus said typing “I want to kill myself” into an internet search engine offers access to 5m sites, many of which give information on how to commit suicide or were chat-rooms where techniques are discussed.

A spokeswoman added: “The sites take no responsibility for the advice they give, do not identify themselves and generally create an atmosphere where suicide is normal, acceptable and to be encouraged.

“The fact is that it is illegal to groom a child to have sex, but not to kill themselves.”

An unfortunate quote, there; I rather doubt that Papyrus want to make suicide a crime again — I hope they don’t, for it certainly wouldn’t help the young people about whom they’re concerned — and the article’s just explained that it is, in fact, illegal under the 1961 Suicide Act to ‘groom’ someone to kill himself.

The problem is that this doesn’t cover putting up a website to encourage unidentified people to kill themselves, and, even if it did, it’s difficult to see how you’d enforce such a law against a US-based website.

Fortunately, the government seem, for once, to be aware that “It is a very complex issue, as many of these sites are hosted abroad and UK law won’t apply there” (a polite way of saying it’s a non-starter), so it looks as if we’ll be spared a new offence of ‘glorification of suicide’ or whatever Papyrus might have in mind.

Papyrus are quoted as saying that ‘it was aware of nearly 20 internet-related suicides cases in the UK in the last five years’, which I suppose sounds more than ‘between three or four a year’, which — assuming they’re talking about young people committing suicide — means about 1% of suicides are ‘internet-related’, whatever that means; according to Mind, each year around 400 people aged between 15 and 24 kill themselves (girls are much more likely attempt suicide, seriously or not, but boys are considerably more likely actually to kill themselves).

Mind’s discussion of the causes of suicide among young people suggests that, perhaps not surprisingly, the groups most at risk include the homeless,  young lesbians and gay men (presumably because they’re worried and confused about their sexuality, or subject to bullying because of it), people with mental illness and drug and alcohol abusers.

Seems to me that Papyrus’s campaigning efforts would be much better directed towards helping these groups rather than getting up moral panics about the threats of the evil interwebs and asking government — who normally don’t need much encouragement — to pass unenforceable and unnecessary laws.

Miss Prism and Doghorse have a very apposite movie on a related topic at ecletech.

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