How Should We Talk About Suicide Online?

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After her son, Junior, killed himself in April 2020, Kelli Wilson discovered that he’d been active on a “pro-choice” website — the choice in question being to kill oneself. In her deep dive into the intersection of suicide and the internet, Vice writer Shayla Love describes how Wilson is now advocating for legislation that would “increase the liability website servers have for the content on the sites they host.” Love doesn’t name the website Junior frequented “due to the concerns of experts who believe that naming it explicitly could lead to self-harm by distressed people.” She refers to it instead as “Suicide Solution.” It wasn’t an easy choice to make, Love explains, because there’s nothing easy when it comes to suicide — including assigning blame:

I wrestled with how to write about a site like Suicide Solution. Even publishing an article at this length, that includes details of what makes the site dangerous, is a controversial choice. Suicide survivors and researchers alike cautioned against publishing the site’s real name. At least one expert I spoke to was hesitant to be interviewed at all because of the fear that they would contribute to driving more people to the site. And, in fact, it might. In one thread I read on Suicide Solution about how people found the website, several users referenced a past VICE article from 2015. Our choice to not to use Suicide Solution’s real name is a reflection of the uncertainty that plagues this arena— about how the internet confers risk, how the ease of finding the site contributes to that risk, and the variability in how people will use the forum.

Still, [April] Foreman [ a psychologist on the executive board of the American Association of Suicidology], said that it makes sense to think that if we just control all the information online about suicide, then people won’t die by suicide anymore. But Suicide Solution’s many incarnations throughout the decades are enough proof that a community like this one may never fully disappear. Trying too hard to stifle it could only drive it back to the Dark Web, out of sight.

“Suicide was a leading cause of death for youth before the internet and before social media, before bulletin boards,” Foreman said. “It has gone up some, but it was a leading cause of death before all of those things because something else is going on. At the end of the day, you could get rid of that website. And I don’t think that you would see an appreciable change at all in in suicide deaths.”

Instead, she thinks the more critical question to ask is: What need is Suicide Solution meeting—even dangerously so—and how do we create systems and supports around the person so that they don’t have to turn only to the internet to feel supported?

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