Two weeks ago, I posted Mental Health? The day after I posted I read an unsettling article about suicide. Specifically, a dark social bubble I became aware of and decided to address.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. suicide rate has risen progressively over the past 20 years – 10.7 deaths per 100,000 in 2000 to 14 deaths per 100,000 in 2019. Significantly about 45,000 people now take their own lives per year, more than the number of people who die from traffic accidents. The greatest increase (45% higher than 2009) was among younger people15-24 years old.
There are numerous resources offering confidential support for people in distress. The leading online service is the National Prevention Lifeline in the United States. What I find alarming is investigative reporters for New York Times uncovered a website where members from around the world share their plans via public forums, live chats and member messaging about their suicide plans and methodology (poisoning hanging, etc.). The site gets on average 6 million views a month which according to a leading analytic company, is quadruple the National Prevention Lifeline. What I find even more disconcerting is the site is not on the Deep Web where resources on the Internet are not indexed by standard search engines (not found in normal web queries) or the Dark Web where resources on the Internet are intentionally hidden which is common for the eCrime and criminal marketplaces, (e.g., botnets, child porn and illicit drug use).
How has this site founded in 2018 not been taken down? Several reasons:
- To date the world’s most powerful search engine has sidetracked any responsibility as it relates to steering visitors to the suicide site.
- The two macabre founders, experts in dark content, live in different countries. They have successfully frustrated those who have attempted to take the site down by moving their servers and server backups around from country to country, plus utilize multiple aliases and domains to wash their real identity from the web.
- Laws against assisted suicide are inconsistent and vary in the U.S. state by state; globally, country by country. More importantly, laws regarding the legal liability for content posted on the Internet are ambiguous.
- Law enforcement has been laxed in their investigations since suicide is not considered a crime and is viewed as an unfortunate decision of an individual. In addition, many are hesitant online activity falls outside their jurisdiction.
Members of the site contacted by the NY Times indicated it was a safe community to join so they could share their deep feelings, plus keep their suicidal intentions hidden from relatives and mental health professionals. A dark social bubble! Makes me wonder how many other dark social bubbles are out there on the web. More importantly, how many will sprout up in the future if the web morphs into a decentralized web (a.k.a. Web3), currently defined as a system of interconnected, independent, privately owned computers free of corporate or government controllers coded to work together to provide private, secure, censorship-resistant access to information and services.