Friday, June 03, 2005

"Hi, nice to meet you. I want to kill myself, too." a thought on internet-based group suicides in Japan

Lately in Japan, the internet is attracting some negative attention: there is a ostensibly widespread fear that the internet is becoming a convenient place for the suicidals. But "convenient" might not mean what might come to the mind of an American. Japanese suicidals aren't obtaining guns to blow their brains out through the internet, nor are they buying a lethal dose of strong medicine without prescription. Nor they aren't contacting a merciful Dr. Kevorkian with Asian complexion. Then what are they doing on the internet?

"As the number of suicides stays high around 32,000 in 2004, group suicides of people who acquainted with each other through the internet are on a sharp rise," an article (Japanese link) on Yomiuri Newspaper states. It seems that the suicidals who can't summon enough courage to actually commit suicide by themselves go to "suicide-inclined" chat rooms, find fellow hesitant suicidals, get together in some isolated places, and commit suicides together, with the help of the (distorted form of) group support. Despite their seeming contradiction, assumed annonymity of the internet in fact encourages instant intimacy between people who share the same interest (in this case the same inclination to suicide). These suicidals must have found the last "push in the back" in the mortal comradery which they couldn't find in their "real" relationship, in which they can't just say "I want to commit suicide" to someone whom they just met.

According to the article, the phenomenon first caught attention in 2003. The number has steadily increased since then: 34 people committed group suicides with people whom they got to know through the internet in 2003, 55 people in 2004, and 54 by the end of April in 2005. The demogrtaphic is heavily slanted toward the people in their 20s, but some are in their teens, 30s, 40s, and 50s.

The police of Yamanashi prefecture, where four people successfully committed a internet-initiated group suicide late last year, decided to prosecute all four for aiding and abetting suicides of the other three. All four were already dead at the point of the police's action, so its purpose was to clarify their stance on group suicide as illegal. In April this year, another police force also arrested two men who survived an attempted group suicide for the same ground. A committee of the Metropolitan Police Department released a report in which they proposed mandatory disclosures of personal information of people who posted announcement of their suicide attempts on the internet in advance, to make it easier to prevent these attempts.

What is odd is that, even though there are so many chat-and-bulletin-board-based web sites which are enormously helpful to the depressed/suicidal people, they are never talked about in the mainstream media. On these web sites, people do talk about their wishes of suicide, and some of them do post announcement of the actual attempts. I don't know what percentage of the users ends up committing suicide and what percentage finds relief in talking about it and doesn't actually kill themselves, but the number of posts and that of actual suicides suggest that a majority finds comfort and in some cases even healing in the annonymous yet intimate community of the internet.

Accusing these web sites for encouraging suicides is, therefore, quite off-the-point. Similarly, the ever-growing parental concern over their kids visiting these suicide-inclined chat rooms and having the evil idea of suicide planted in their innocent heads is absurd. There is, for sure, an element of fantasy in imagining one's own suicide, and some of the grop suicide bulleting boards can ferment the fantasy, but even in such cases, blaming the web sites doesn't solve any problem. When it comes to the police prosecuting the dead for aiding and abetting the other participants of group suicide, it is nothing but outrageous. If they thought that it would be a good deterrent, I wouldn't know what to say. What might or might not happen to themselves after their death is the last concern the people comtemplating suicide could have.

At any event, the article awakened my long-lasting curiosity of suicide in the context of culture. That'll be the theme of my reading for a while--hopefully it won't further delay the translation of "Wildfire." (The third chapter is almost done.)


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