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Suicide solicitations pose problems for social media

The Yomiuri ShimbunRecently, people seeking partners with whom to commit suicide have become less likely to use so-called “suicide websites” for that purpose and more likely to use Twitter and other social media.

Many messages looking for people who want to commit suicide are posted there. The National Police Agency has categorized such posts as “harmful information,” but it is difficult to delete them completely under the current circumstances.

In a case where the bodies of nine people were found at an apartment in Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, the suspect, Takahiro Shiraishi, 27, read some Twitter messages posted by people who wanted to commit suicide. He allegedly contacted them and lured them to his apartment.

Grim hashtags

Even after the incident was revealed, messages seeking someone to commit suicide with together have been written on Twitter on a daily basis. “I am afraid of dying alone. Is there anyone who wants to die with me?” one of the messages said. Others went on to say: “I want to die. Would you like to commit suicide together by hanging?”

Such phrases as “#Jisatsuboshu” (Seeking suicide partners) are displayed at the very beginning or end of the posts. Twitter features a search function called a hashtag. When you attach the symbol # to the very beginning of a word, or to phrases combined as if they were one long word, your message can be easily found by anyone searching for that word or phrase.

Among the responses to such postings there are messages to prevent suicide as saying, “You have to live.” But there are also ones that reply to them saying, “I can accompany you if you would like.”

Switching to Twitter

People wishing to end their lives used to meet on “suicide websites” and collective suicide became an issue of public concern. According to the NPA, the number of people who met through such websites and committed collective suicide reached 91 in 2005.

The NPA and other organizations took the matter seriously and requested internet service providers to take necessary measures against it. As a result, the providers complied with the request and began handing over related information even without a warrant if the matters appeared truly urgent. More and more suicide sites were driven to close.

Despite the measures, people have switched from writing messages on suicide websites to Twitter.“We were relieved that suicide websites lost momentum and then further measures were put off,” a senior police officer regretted.

The NPA has categorized the posts on the internet including social media into three types of information: “illegal,” “harmful” and “neither of the two.” The illegal information refers to child pornography or other forms. Harmful information is that which could provoke crimes or incidents even though they are not regarded as illegal themselves.

Messages provoking suicide are classified into the “harmful” group. The NPA and other organizations will ask the providers to delete such information, if anyone reports it. But if the reports are short of specifics, including dates and places, they do not respond.

The Safer Internet Association (SIA) is a general incorporated association that asks providers to delete illegal or harmful posts in cooperation with the NPA. The SIA stated that it handled only 99 cases related to suicide last year.

Moreover, the NPA says that it cannot grasp how many of those posts there are on Twitter.

Preventative measures lagging

The social media platform also ends up running behind on preventative measures against these posts. The operational rules to post on Twitter stipulate that users are not allowed to write messages related to topics of suicide or acts of self-harm. The company is trying to suspend internet accounts or delete posts either encouraging or agitating for suicide, as much as possible. But there are too many posts on Twitter to cope with it perfectly.

In principle, Twitter Japan does not delete posts that hint at suicide such as “I want to die.”

A spokesperson for the firm said: “We are considering internally and externally what would be the best way of tackling the problem, while studying the advantages or the disadvantages that are caused by deleting those messages.”Speech

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