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Suicides show need for website responsibility

Suicides show need for websites to take responsibility when providing virtual spaces for young people

NetSafe is calling on social networking sites to take greater responsibility for the care of young people within their on-line communities. The recent spate of suicides in South Wales which were linked through highlights the lack of structured support for young people in online spaces.

“We expect organisations that provide physical spaces for young people to ensure their safety whilst they are there. We should also set the same level of expectation for organisations who invite young people into their virtual space.” says NetSafe’s Executive Director, Martin Cocker. “These organisations market to and target our young people, and they need to accept some responsibility for their care.”

Social networking sites are a virtual space but they have real implications for the safety and wellbeing of young people. These sites are major ‘developmental’ settings where young people explore their identities, form opinions, and develop relationships.

“Dismissing the social networking sites as only ‘virtual’ fails to recognise the real implications they hold for young peoples’ lives.” says Cocker. “Better management of social networking sites would maximise the positive benefits they can bring, whilst reducing the risk of harm.”

One of the most serious and difficult things for young people to deal with is suicide or death – and the popularity of online memorial sites concerns professionals working in this field.

Merryn Statham, Director of Suicide Prevention Information New Zealand, a service of the Mental Health Foundation says: “When trying to come to terms with the loss of someone close, young people need somewhere to express this grief. However, if this loss is to suicide there is a great risk of other vulnerable young people seeing this huge outpouring of grief and adulation, and seeking this for themselves.”

“At worst, memorial sites can actually provide motivation for distressed young people to emulate the behaviour of those that are being memorialised. From a suicide prevention perspective, we would encourage all social networking sites to take every step possible to ensure the safety of their participants.”

Specific examples of improved services include:
- A button which social networking community members can use to identify concerns about the safety or wellbeing of other members. Most sites currently only allow the reporting of abusive members.
- Users should have access to appropriate and qualified support services.


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