Thursday, December 03, 2009

Police act after mass-suicide call on Facebook

Source: South China Morning Post

Police technological experts are trying to track down an internet user who started a mass-suicide group on the social networking site Facebook - one of whose members, a 15-year-old schoolboy, tried to kill himself two weeks ago.

Nearly 190 people joined the group "I have to practise suicide" - which called on its members to kill themselves together on December 21 - although its unknown originator said in one posting that it was meant to be an "inside joke".

Yuen Long district commander Kenneth Li Kin-fai said yesterday after meeting headmasters from 35 schools that the case had been passed to the Police Technology Crime Division. The investigation began after police received a report from a social worker two days ago about the suicide attempt in which the boy, a member of the group, was stopped by schoolmates from throwing himself off a building at his Tin Shui Wai school.

Li said the group convenor was the main target and police might have trouble tracking down all the members. "The internet is without boundaries. People who participated in discussion in the group were not only from Yuen Long or Tin Shui Wai. They could be from outside Hong Kong," he said.

The Facebook group was removed yesterday after media reports. The creator had said the group was "totally random" and members were supposed to talk about ways to die in a "retarded way", such as "jumping off a chair". The creator wrote: "I'm not encouraging suicide. It's supposed to be an inside joke."

But according to messages on the page, many members were deadly serious as they talked about the possibility of group suicide. "Does anyone want to commit suicide together," asked one user who said he had failed to kill himself by taking two bottles of sleeping pills. "Burning charcoal and taking pills is what I want to do to kill myself," the 18-year-old said, adding that he suffered from hyperactivity.

Undersecretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said the government was closely monitoring the case.

Anyone who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to commit suicide, faces a maximum penalty of 14 years' jail.

Associate director of the Centre for Information Security and Cryptography of the University of Hong Kong, Chow Kam-pui, said: "Police can trace the IP addresses of [group] members through Facebook administration and internet service providers in Hong Kong." Members could also be found and identified by analysis of their social networks and messages they posted in the group.

Police will meet representatives of the Education Bureau and Social Welfare Department today to discuss follow-up action.

Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention director Paul Yip Siu-fai said the government should take a further step by amending the law. "The ordinance implicitly states that people who aid and procure the suicide of another or a suicide attempt by another break the law. But the government should state it explicitly like other countries.

"It is very dangerous. One person who has suicidal thoughts will pass them on to another and while one person may not have the determination to do it, with more people's involvement, the determination will grow," he said.

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