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The Internet Science

Internet Sites Biased Towards Supporting Suicide 358

Believe It Or Not, I Care About You writes "According to a new study in the British Medical Journal which examined the search results for various suicide-related search terms, the most common results supported or encouraged suicide. Wikipedia was one of the most prevalent sources of information, particularly on suicide methods, although the Wikimedia Foundation itself does not encourage suicide. Other studies have shown that media coverage has an effect on suicide particularly with respect to influencing the method chosen. Interestingly, this study notes that suicide rates actually decreased with increased Web usage in England, perhaps because support is readily available to anyone who wants it."
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Internet Sites Biased Towards Supporting Suicide

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  • No surprise there. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by McDutchie ( 151611 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @05:24PM (#23049206) Homepage

    Interestingly, this study notes that suicide rates actually decreased with increased Web usage in England, perhaps because support is readily available to anyone who wants it."

    The desire for suicide stems from desperation, from having no way out, from not being heard or understood by anyone. The "support" of suicide provides those with suicidal tendencies with a way out, and gives them the feeling that they are heard and understood. This then decreases the actual risk of suicide.

  • by DocJohn ( 81319 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @05:28PM (#23049248) Homepage
    Well, gee, if you search for only websites that offer "suicide methods" (as most of the researcher's search terms were constructed), it's not surprising you're going to find exactly that -- a lot of websites that are biased toward providing suicide methods.

    The researchers stacked the deck at the onset by carefully defining their search terms to focus exclusively on "suicide methods" (not reasonable other search terms, like suicide crisis, support, help, etc.) The one non-biased search term ("suicide") shows zero pro-suicide websites in the top 10 search results on the 4 search engines the researchers used.

    Read my full response at the BMJ: []

    Psych Central []
  • by Dr. Eggman ( 932300 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @05:31PM (#23049272)

    Hey nice, a story thats 2 days old.
    Remember, Slashdot is powered by your [] submissions! []
  • by Dr. Eggman ( 932300 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @05:35PM (#23049292)
    Also, I can imagine it must be somewhat sobering to understand just what exactly would happen to you when you decide to ingest lye.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 12, 2008 @05:36PM (#23049300)
    You can't describe suicide with just one variable, but you are almost hit what psychologists believe is a major factor: close social integration. In places where it is harder for an individual to be forgotten due to larger families and better 'tribal' ties, the suicide rate is the lowest. For example, the vast majority of Latin America has extremely small suicide rates as do many Middle Eastern countries. The highest suicide rates are in Asia. This phenomena has been extensively studied in Japan which has an extremely high suicide rate. It has been noted that it is extremely easy to fall under the radar and just be completely ignored in Japan. Hopefully the extremely active online social networking in Japan will help reduce the suicide rate there.
  • Bad science. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by davolfman ( 1245316 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @05:37PM (#23049306)
    If you read the study itself, it's weighted almost entirely for people actually searching for ways to do the deed. Of course it mostly returns results instructing people how to do it, that's what they told the search engines to give them! This isn't science, this is stupidity!
  • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF ( 813746 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @05:39PM (#23049328)

    From the summary:

    the most common results supported or encouraged suicide.

    From the article, the search terms:

    suicide, suicide methods, suicide sure methods, most effective methods of suicide, methods of suicide, ways to commit suicide, how to commit suicide, how to kill yourself, easy suicide methods, best suicide methods, pain-free suicide, and quick suicide.

    To me that seems to indicate that search engines are working, not that there is more pro-suicide info online than anti-suicide. For some strange reason I doubt most anti-suicide sites will include useful information on "best suicide methods" or "pain-free suicide." The same applies to the majority of the terms used. In fact, 11 of those 12 terms are specific to people looking for ways to commit suicide. Maybe the study should have looked for terms/phrases geared towards whether or not people should commit suicide. I don't know about you but if I am looking to research painless ways to commit suicide (for whatever reason) and I search for "pain-free suicide" and the majority of the results returned are not about that topic but about trying to discourage people from doing it, well the search engine was ineffective and I would be annoyed. I don't have any problem at all with search engines not being easily hijacked by people with a specific agenda of providing me some information I don't want (be it advertising or anti-suicide counseling) instead of the information I clearly do want based upon my search criteria. Maybe if suicide prevention groups don't like this they can do the same as commercial companies and buy some ad space.

  • Re:Obvious (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rhakka ( 224319 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @05:52PM (#23049424)
    I wish people would differentiate suicide more often.

    Whenever people talk about suicide, we typically picture some really depressed person in a funk offing themselves.

    But what if life really isn't worth living anymore? What if you're slowly losing your mind? Terminally ill? Old and sick? A threat to others?

    There are forms of suicide that are not the sudden, "Oh they had so much to live for" kind of trauma you're talking about. I wish that were acknowledged more often instead of this ridiculous "culture of life" crap out there that fails to acknowledge that quality of life is important too.

    Personally, I don't see the point of saving up my entire life just to pay part of my medicals bills in my last year or two of life. I'd prefer to save up to enjoy retirement.. preferably early.. and when I start really failing, ending it all on MY terms.

    Sure I might feel different then.. but I might not too ;) time to do some research...
  • by rubenerd ( 998797 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @05:55PM (#23049438) Homepage

    Just a quick comment regarding the intertubes usefulness for support. My mum died after her 12 year battle with cancer at the end of last year; I was stuyding externally so I could help take care of her as she was getting weaker.

    In all honesty I don't know where I would have been then or now without the Internet. Within a few hours of realising the unthinkable happened I had people literally from as far away as Alaska and South Africa (I live in Singapore) sending their condolences and thoughts, it really was something else.

    Also I think people tend to think of support in the fairly narrow sense, don't underestimate the pleasent distraction and coping help you can get from tinkering with source code from your favourite FLOSS app or OS, say for example FreeBSD. Really got me through some tough times.

  • by gruvmeister ( 1259380 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @05:56PM (#23049446)
    The researchers performed a bunch of searches on ways to kill yourself, and that's what they found. Looks like a great demonstration of how search engines work. They should stop acting shocked that the search engine actually returned results relevant to their searches, and instead be happy they didn't get a bunch of "" bullshit instead.
  • by Chmcginn ( 201645 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @05:56PM (#23049450) Journal
    The question is what is someone considering suicide going to do a search for - suicide, suicide consueling, or suicide methods?

    They should have asked that question of a bunch of recent suicide attempters first.

  • Re:Darwinism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Saturday April 12, 2008 @05:57PM (#23049454) Homepage Journal
    A lot of people who seriously consider or attempt suicide are simply going a particularly bad time, and after surviving their brush with death go on to lead productive lives. Saying "just take yourself out of the gene pool" to these people isn't only callous, it's dumb.

    That being said, I do believe that people who genuinely want to die and who have carefully worked out their reasons for this desire, after considering and rejecting the alternatives, should be allowed to do so. In particular, if I were dying of something that would inevitably kill me slowly and painfully (or worse, destroy the person I am long before my body dies, like Alzheimer's) then I would very much hope that I could find a sympathetic doctor to hook me up with some, ah, special medications.
  • by MrMage ( 1240674 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @06:01PM (#23049478)
    I feel like I'm being a bit obvious by saying this, but by looking into "suicide methods" they weren't looking into anything related to suicide, but merely the existence of censorship or crummy search engines.

    I see the good intentions, but they're treating a new age technology as if it were an older medium ("Suicide risks looking for methods clearly need help shoved at them instead").

    I'll be frank here. If I were to search for suicide methods, and instead find myself inside a trap of help advertisements, I'd be sent even further down my path to kill myself because it's obvious I no longer have a say in the information that's provided to me.

    Long comment short, the study was merely there for a pro censorship campaign.
  • by ktappe ( 747125 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @06:03PM (#23049498)
    Most of the sites referenced by the study seem not necessarily to be "pro" but simply making the information available. While this may seem heinous and "pro" to anyone adamantly against suicide, it is a fallacy of logic to presume those sites are "pro suicide." A parallel of this fallacy would be to believe any site that discusses Hitler would be "pro Nazi". To make information available can very much be a neutral or impartial act, and needs to be differentiated from sites (of which there certainly were also some cited by the study) that said you "should" kill yourself. Those I think we should condemn, but for us to condemn simple availability of information is a very dangerous censorship line to cross.
  • duh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jeremy_Bee ( 1064620 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @06:06PM (#23049528)
    So, they found out that:

    - search engines work well when searching for suicide methods.
    - wikipedia is one of the best sources of information on the internet.

  • Advertising (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF ( 813746 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @06:09PM (#23049548)

    Okay, it got me curious. If you go to google and enter pain-free suicide into the product search it provides five sponsired links and they are:

    1. Crime Scene Cleanup - Suicide, Homicide, Accident, Human Decomposition, Pack-Rat Houses, etc (
    2. Teen Suicide Prevention - Evidence-based research articles on teen suicide prevention (
    3. Pain Free - the book The Revolutionary Method - $10, With Egoscue Rejuvenation - $21 (
    4. Suicide Thoughts? - Take this quick test to find answers. (
    5. Pain Free - Buy Pain Free Books, DVDs & More. Shop now & Save (
  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @06:12PM (#23049558) Homepage Journal
    Just because websites provide information explaining how people kill themselves, and what the details of the nasty process are like, doesn't mean those sites "support" suicide, in the sense of recommending, endorsing or encouraging it. In fact, the facts about suicide reveal that it's hard to kill oneself, that it's complicated, likely to fail, painful, embarassing, and just plain hard. Lots of people talking about killing themselves or just thinking about it will not go through with it if they know what will really probably happen, if they get a good look at the process with enough time to think about it, rather than just wash down a bottle of downers with a quart of liquor (which often doesn't work, as some of these websites explain).

    Maybe the increased availability of graphic facts about what the person is thinking of doing is part of the reason that fewer people are doing it. Maybe the prevention services aren't entirely effective, but don't want to compete with simple websites that are often more approachable and carry less stigma from private viewing than asking another person for help, or admitting that one is seriously considering that desperate measure.

    The fear-driven conclusion that sharing information about a practice is equivalent to encouraging it, when that info includes the discouraging facts about it, has got to go away. It's an old coping mechanism for "dangerous" information that relies on centralized authorities, and the control of the info supply, rather than growing the ability of people to think about whatever info we come across, and protect ourselves from what we filter as "bad". This is the Info Age. We've got a lot of growing up to do. Because the info flood is only going to gush more strongly, and only learning to think for ourselves can protect us.
  • Re:Quotes (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tftp ( 111690 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @06:14PM (#23049576) Homepage
    Killing them is not the answer

    On the other hand, if they know that every attempted suicide will be 100% successful (with or without government's assistance) then maybe - just maybe - they will consider other, less painful ways to ask for help? Like, maybe, filling a Web form?

  • by MichaelCrawford ( 610140 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @06:24PM (#23049622) Homepage Journal
    Where one is often advised to "mindpixel yourself", "klerck yourself" or use "shotgun mouthwash" or "winchester mouthwash".

    I have schizoaffective disorder []. It's just like being manic depressive and schizophrenic at the same time. One of the symptoms is severe depression: I have attempted suicide twice. There were several years where I was almost continuously suicidal. It was quite a grim existence.

    I also know now that depression is actually a delusional state; feeling that life is not worth living is no more real than regarding oneself as the Emperor of France. It can almost always be effectively treated, and often cured completely.

    I have found many times that the antidepressants I take for it (imipramine these days) have the effect of changing the behaviour of other people [www.geometricvisions], making them friendlier towards me. Strangers are more likely to strike up conversations with me when I'm medicated.

    I'm not kidding! I'm absolutely serious.

  • by gapagos ( 1264716 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @06:57PM (#23049810)
    See it's this kind of humour that is really problematic in today's world, and maybe it should be addressed.

    Don't forget that at one point in time, it was considered acceptable to blame AIDS on homosexuals and make fun of them.

    Maybe if we didn't have so little tolerance or care for people suffering of depression, maybe, and that's a big maybe, maybe it could save a few students from going into a shooting rampage and taking away innocent lives.

    Have you thought about this?
  • by stephanruby ( 542433 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @07:05PM (#23049872)

    This phenomena has been extensively studied in Japan which has an extremely high suicide rate. It has been noted that it is extremely easy to fall under the radar and just be completely ignored in Japan.
    Citations please. The last time I had easy everyday access to medical journals, which was around ten years ago, I only found studies citing higher rates of suicide in Japan among the oldest people -- not the rest. Of course, any kind of suicide is still a suicide, but I'm just trying to clarify what seems to be a popular myth about teen suicides and office worker suicides in Japan.

    The studies I looked at showed that almost everyone in Japan (everybody but old people) were actually much less likely to commit suicides than the people in the United States. I certainly could see why you'd think the opposite was true. There is a cultural history of suicides in Japan, whether it's in the form of Sepuku (ritual suicide) or Kamikazes. There is also an acknowledged underground subculture of suicides, see the movie "The Suicide Club". And even ten years ago, when I looked it up, I had seen an American documentary actually citing higher rates of suicides in Japan and showing us one example of a Japanese kid who had committed suicide because of bullying, and then they had showed the interview of a wife who had lost her office worker husband because of his suicide (which was office work and over-work-related), but otherwise I do not think that our popular impression of Japan actually translates into reality in these cases.

    I also believe that the often quoted higher rates of suicide and people jumping off buildings during the depression in the United States was a myth. It sounds true enough. And it was reported widely as true at the time -- generally speaking. But when you dig down enough and try to find such incidents, you can't find any specific one.

    Now of course, not having the evidence doesn't mean it didn't happen. And there is certain amount of shame around suicides, and in some places it's intentionally misreported (for instance, I had a female relative who did commit suicide in Portugal a while ago, and it was purposefully misreported by the family/press/doctor), but unless I see an actual scientific study attempting to quantify the rates of suicides in Japan (and the corresponding attempt to explain/quantify the uncertainty involved in such a study), I'm just going to assume that you're just rehashing some studies you've actually seen cited on TV, and not some actual published peer-reviewed scientific study -- that the rest of us consider a real study.
  • by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @07:07PM (#23049892)
    I cant comment on the bias as I have not seen their methodology, but frankly this is part of the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory []. Since Ive been online, using BBSs as a child in the 1980s, Ive noticed that anonymous people are nasty people. Even on sites that go out of their way to be productive and are heavily moderated like you'll see that most answer to social problems are the most dramatic. Should someone get a divorce. Yes. Should someone quit their job? Yes.

      When people are anonymous and dont know the person they are responding to they often will just pick the most extreme solution and go with it. It really takes a decent person to sit back and think of the person they are talking to as a real person, like a friend of loved-one. This kind of thing almost never happens on the internet and I am not surprised to see it when it comes to suicide. Hopefully, the people who are looking up those websites also pick up the phone to a suicide hotline. Funny, how something like a real human voice and real interaction suddenly changes everything.
  • Résumé (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 3-State Bit ( 225583 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @07:40PM (#23050070)
    Razors pain you;
    Rivers are damp;
    Acids stain you;
    And drugs cause cramp.
    Guns arent lawful;
    Nooses give;
    Gas smells awful;
    You might as well live.

    (Dorothy Parker)
  • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @07:51PM (#23050122)

    The question is what is someone considering suicide going to do a search for - suicide, suicide consueling, or suicide methods?

    Not really. If the potential suicide goes searching specifically for sites that provide ways to commit suicide, then it's hard to argue that it's the search engine's for finding sites that provide ways to commit suicide.
  • Flamebait? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jdb2 ( 800046 ) * on Saturday April 12, 2008 @08:15PM (#23050260) Journal
    Maybe the moron that modded this as "Flamebait" should consider the *horrible* emotional suffering that I, and other suicide survivors, experience. This has been the most painful experience in my life -- the suffering is beyond description. Ever heard of sympathy? You'll be wanting it if ever one of your loved ones dies before their time.

  • by liquidpele ( 663430 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @08:54PM (#23050468) Journal
    So post the pictures already...
  • by Chrono11901 ( 901948 ) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @11:42PM (#23051484)
    Society has always been this way. The fact that your anonymous on the net makes it worst.

    People always tear others down to make themselves feel better. So to survive in society you either:

    a)Do whatever you can to fit in, and be successfully according to the quirks of society.

    b)Do what ever makes you happy and not give a rats ass about what others think.

    c)flip out and/or lash out.

    There are some people who can handle it and then there are those who proclaim life is horrible when they drop and break their ipod. Unless society itself changes nothing will change and considering society has always been this way... don't ever expect change.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 13, 2008 @01:40AM (#23052032)

    I seem to always be able to find the challenge or good in everything, so I honestly can't understand why others can't do that...
    Your ability to rationalize your existence and unquestionably accept lowered expectations is more acute than that of most.
  • by __aailob1448 ( 541069 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @04:09AM (#23052576) Journal
    You can't understand because you are not them. I can't understand why anyone would take pleasure in hurting people or animals without cause. I can't understand because i'm not wired that way. The same goes for you. You're actually better if what you say is true since the end result for you is satisfaction and happiness.

    So I say: Good for you!Eenjoy your life, don't apologize for your good joss and pity those who can't figure out their own way and are miserable. Make it a challenge to not make things worse for them and try to see the good in them since that is your strength.

    Good luck on your journey.
  • NPOV? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SanityInAnarchy ( 655584 ) <> on Sunday April 13, 2008 @04:16AM (#23052596) Journal
    The Wikipedia article on Suicide seems to be written in that completely dispassionate, apparently unbiased way that all the better Wikipedia articles are. I suppose they neither encourage nor discourage suicide.

    It thus reflects the rest of the Internet. If you want to join a cult, there's plenty of information out there -- the Church of Scientology has certainly staked out its own turf. If you want to have all kinds of crazy, kinky sex, there's information on where to buy Gor books, on how to safely suffocate someone almost until they pass out, or how, exactly, to apply a whip or crop for maximum pain but minimum actual injury...

    And if you want to commit suicide, you can find out where to get a gun, and how to load it. Or how to hang yourself -- how to set up the drop to be quick and hard enough to snap your neck before you feel any pain.

    And if you want to get out of depression, it'll show you all kinds of prescription pills, psychiatrists, meditation, or simply support groups to help you through it.

    In other words, the Internet itself is neutral -- due to the sheer amount of diversity out there, what the Internet is to you is exactly what you choose for it to be.

    Is that a good thing? Would it be better if Wikipedia actively discouraged suicide?

    Oh, one more thing: What I've found to be effective is simply talking to the person. It doesn't matter what you say, or even too much how you say it. It matters more that you are there -- human contact helps.

    A real example: Someone told me of her plans to commit suicide. I was sick of trying to help her with her almost daily threatening to do so. So instead, I asked her how she was planning to do it. And I criticized her for her technique, and brainstormed a bit with her on more effective ways of killing herself -- quickly, and without mistakes, so she wouldn't wake up in the hospital.

    And after a few minutes of this, she broke out laughing at the absurdity of the situation.

    Remember, kids -- anyone who really wants to end their life can do it, quickly, easily, painlessly -- or painfully, if they like. The fact that they are still alive and still talking to you means they aren't going to go through with it.

    I can only wonder if the Wikipedia article could have anything like that effect... Or if it's just the opposite, if it's too impersonal.
  • by baboonlogic ( 989195 ) <anshul@ba b o o n l o g> on Sunday April 13, 2008 @04:43AM (#23052700) Homepage

    WTF? +5, insightful... here on nerd central? Of course the websites out there must be biased.

    What's wrong with you people? Would you listen to a moron painting all the cancers of the world with a single size 200 paintbrush and asking all cancer victims to not pass off their dna? Then why single out the depressions? Depression is not anymore a disease than cancer is... it is a class of diseases. And while it may kill you, it certainly does not kill your drive to pass off your dna. What the parent is saying is just ugly and elitist.

    Quoting from the American Psychiatric Association's response to Szasz [],

    There is much that is 'physical' in mental disorders and much 'mental' in 'physical' disorders.

    What the parent has is just a false dichotomy.

    While we might understand very little about the brain and depressions, our knowledge is nowhere as shallow as the parent implies.

    Almost all forms of depression now have a provably strong physical component. Some forms of depression are more disabling than others. Some people are genetically predisposed to some. Some are treatable. Some depressions are like cancers and some are like untreated common colds. It is not for fun or glorification that some mental problems are considered medical disorders.

  • +5 insightful (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tsjaikdus ( 940791 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @05:54AM (#23052944)
    The +5 insightful is due to the link to TED I suppose.

    Putting yourself in the center of the universe and not understanding why other people may have different feelings is not insightful in my opinion.

    There's an interesting experiment described on this page [] in which dogs are put in an unpleasant situation that they can not escape from. Only 30% of the dogs where not effected in such a way that they thought the situation could not be escaped in the future. Translated to humans I think this means that the majority of people would become depressed if they were in a hopeless situation without a job, family or friends for extended periods of time. Not just an unfortunate few. I think most people are just lucky that they are fixed in this social framwork of work an relationships that is so important for their wellbeing. They would fall apart when it drops away. Then only the other part of 30% may actually see new opportunities.
  • by somersault ( 912633 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @08:06AM (#23053410) Homepage Journal
    I think quite a lot of people who've never used the internet could still see the humour in such things as the Darwin Awards. Outside of situations that were obviously highly dangerous, it is kind of twisted to laugh. I'd say I'm pretty desensetised to the horrors of death, and end up kind of treating the subject more lightly than most (though inwardly still being scared that I might lose another loved one to death, I was devastated when my dad died, and it's affected my life quite a lot in that I've pretty much lost most of my respect for authority). I'm not sure how much of that would be towards the internet itself, but a good pun is probably always going to elicit a bit of a smile, whether it's in bad taste or not. I was thinking that there are some things such as paedophilia that I'd just find incredibly sick to joke about, though then I remembered a coupla months ago, I made a kind of joke to do with the meaning of the original latin, with the supposed situation that someone who didn't know the modern meaning could write "paedophile" on a job application for a job working with children - paedophile of course literally meaning "one who loves children", though these days that has come to take on a mostly sexual connotation. I probably shouldn't have made that joke, it shows I joke about even one of the things that out of all human practices, I find most disturbing..

If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants. -- Isaac Newton