Internet has become a gadget of everyday use for people of 21st century. As it is offering many benefits to the users in terms of information communcaition, interaction, entertainment, socialization and earning livelihhod, there are certain dark factors related to it. The dark factors are as severe as forcing people to commit suicide. It is no exaggeration to mention that Intenet is used as a medium to harass people and get undue benefits from them.
Social media today is playing major role in enabling people and organizations to communicate and share ideas, views and knowledge with other people. The traditional methods of communication have been modified through social media platforms like chat rooms, social networking sites (Facebook, My-Space, Twitter, Google+ etc.), video sites (YouTube), discussion forums, video chat, text messages, blogs etc. (Lexton et al., 2012). The most well-known social networking website Facebook had almost million users at the end of 2004 ("Facebook statistics," 2011). By the month of June 2011, the number raised to approximately 700 million users around the world ("Facebook statistics by country," n.d.). An average of 30 billion pieces of material in the form of web links, news reports, photo albums and blog posts are shared monthly through this social networking site, as reported by Facebook itself.
Suicide is a major public health issue. Almost 30,000 suicidal deaths have been reported annually in the United States while approximately 1 million deaths through suicide occur every year worldwide ("Suicide and self-inflicted injury," 2012). A number of factors contribute to suicidal attempts like mental illness, mood disorders, schizophrenia, drug and alcohol abuse.
Nowadays, social media has emerged as a significant factor driving the individuals towards suicide related behavior. Cyberbullying is one of the methods being employed by the social network users. The effects of bullying are wide range leading to failing grades, substance abuse, depression and suicide. A number of psychiatric and substance disorders may inculcate in the victims of bullying either face-to-face or online (Sussman, 2011).
It is a topic of great debate and interest to identify the role of the Internet, especially social media in suicide associated behavior (Fiedorowicz, 2009). Also, the researchers are keen to determine whether Internet helps or averts suicide. The indirect and complicated interlink between Internet and suicide has made it difficult to recognize the Internet's influence over suicide behavior. Furthermore, countless legal complexities along with problems related to freedom of speech and civil liberties have incited debate over this issue. Other related issues are whether the social media's impact on the suicide behavior should be thought of as a public health problem and how should the public health strategies be employed to address this effect.
The next section includes few articles that describe the role of social media in suicide-related behavior along with opinions from various authors and evidences to prove this influence. Later, it will be discussed that in what ways social networking media can be used to prevent suicide. Ultimately, the future implication and prevention strategies would be elaborated.
A number of studies have been conducted by researchers, some of which prove that social media has a role in suicide-oriented behavior. At the same time, a number of studies contradict this idea. Hagihara et al. (2007) conducted a comprehensive research to find the link between suicide rate and use of Internet. He carried out a time-series analysis through data obtained during the years 1987 to 2005. He also showed a statistically confirmed and reliable positive correlation between the general population rates of suicide in Japan and the prevalence of the Internet users in homes. However, the results of these studies cannot be thought of as conclusive owing to cross-sectional frameworks and the likeliness of ecological misconceptions (Hagihara et al., 2007).
A systematic web-based research was carried out by Biddle et al. (2008) in which he searched 12 suicides associated terminologies like suicide, ways to suicide, how to kill yourself, best suicide methods etc. Out of 240 different sites for every search, 10 sites were analyzed. Almost half of them were found to be prosuicide websites and sites that gave factual information related to suicide. In the first few hits of a search, the prosuicide sites and discussion forums appeared most frequently, which discussed general issues linked with suicide. However, this study focused on prosuicide related key search words and thus many suicide prevention and support resource sites were excluded from the study (Biddle et al., 2008).
Another study was performed by Recupero et al. (2008) which identified sites related to suicides available on the Internet search engines. From a total of 373 Web site hits, 11% were prosuicide, 31% were suicide neutral while 29% were actually antisuicide. This study revealed that it is quite convenient to obtain prosuicide information as well as the suicide methods on the Internet (Recupero et al., 2008).
A cross-national study to determine the relation between suicide rates of the general population and the prevalence of Internet users was conducted by Shah (2010). He utilized the data from the World Health Organization's and the United Nations Development Program's Websites. He reported that a positive correlation exists between the prevalence of Internet users and suicide rates in the general population (Shah, 2010).
Information regarding how to die by suicide is spread through message boards and discussion forums. For instance, about 220 cases of people attempting suicide through the use of hydrogen sulfide, were reported in Japan in 2008. It was found out that this suicidal outbreak was the result of introduction of gas associated procedure on the Internet in the message boards. This gas even affected the family members, paramedical staff and healthcare professionals who were not only injured but also a few deaths were reported because of the toxic gas release (Morii et al., 2011).
An important cause of suicide among the Internet users is related to cyber bullying. Cyber bullying refers to the intentional and repeated harassment or threats to a child or teen through cellular or Internet network like e-mail, texting, social networking sites or consistent texting. There was a retrospective study carried out by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference ad Exhibition in New Orleans. The study enrolled 41 suicide cases consisting of 24 females, 17 males of the age group 13-18 from United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. It was revealed that about 78% of adolescents committing suicide were bullied at school as well as on social networking websites. Only 17% were those being targeted online. Around 32% teens displayed mood disorders as a cause of committing suicide. On the other hand, depression symptoms were observed in additional 15% teenagers who committed suicide. Thus, it was concluded through the study that cyber bullying is just a factor contributing towards suicide, but there are always some other associated factors like mental illness ('Cyberbullying Does Not 'Cause' Teen Suicide', 2012). This study gave another insight to the resarchers that Internet has considerable effect on the prsona lives of people and they can face serious threats because of this invention which is considered as a source of communiation to spread knpweldge and stay updated.
Talking in the particular context of Facebook, it is interesting to mention that it may provoke suicidal behaviour in one way or the other. It was revealed by German scientists in a recent study that watching one's friend's vacations, holiday or wedding photos may spur feelings of misery and loneliness which can ultimately lead to depression or suicide (Rudenko, 2013). It is important to explore that people tend to spend their tiem on facebook so that they keep themselves updated about their friends and colleagues. At times, they do not have any social circle in which they can spend their time. Consequently, they attract towards their e-friends who enjoy posting their updates which may be routine as well. It is quite natural that they share positive news about them. People wish their loved ones on Facebook, write their wishes and express their feelings on their wall. There are many individuals whose life may be entirely different from the one who is posting updates on regualr basis. Sharing lovely messages can have negative impact on the viewer and the first thought can be realization that he is alone and there is nobody who can post such messages for him.
At the same time, Facebook believes that analyzing the user's comments or status on his platform can help identifying which of the Facebooker are planning to commit suicide. In order to study the activity of suicide suspects on the platform in the days before their death, the social media giant has collaborated with Save.org (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education). Even, the suicide indications can be seen in the content which is posted by the user on their wall pages. The life of a user can be saved if his or her family members identify the warning signals. The project details are not revealed yet, but according to Bloomberg, the project is…