Are reblogs encouraging suicides in the gay community?

Just in the last month, we’ve seen numerous young gay people take their lives. Tumblr went purple and spread the word with 29,294 reblogs. The photo above has 17,300 reblogs. Obama even made an “It gets better” video with 704,000 views. 

Is the blogosphere contributing and encouraging this recent suicide epidemic? Are we reblogging the stories of these “martyrs” without actually thinking about what we’re doing in the minds of those young people thinking about committing suicide? For many, the internet is sort of like a very good friend. Always fascinating, always dynamic, always funny, sometimes smart, sometimes happily dumb, etc. We’re actually influenced more than we think by this “friend.” Are all of these reblogs sort of like your good friend whispering in your ear, “Hey your life is pretty hard because you’re gay. But look at how popular your "brothers” have gotten because they killed themselves. If you kill yourself, you’ll join the movement and get popular too.“

It’s been obvious to the scientific community for the past 40 years or so that suicide is contagious. In fact, according to Dr. Nicholas Christakis, the author of the excellent book, Connected:

Suicide contagion occurs almost exclusively among the young. Adults older than twenty-four show little, if any, excess likelihood of killing themselves if someone they know has done so or if they simply read about a suicide in the paper. But teenagers, who are especially impressionable and susceptible to peer effects in so many domains of their lives, are another matter. The link between the subject’s age and susceptibility is yet another illustration of how the attributes of the nodes on a network are crucial in determining the flow of the phenomenon at hand.

One of the big problems with the blogosphere is that we’re all amateur journalists and we don’t always realize the downside of our collective minds actually contributing to something devastating. Sometimes, we have to be cognizant that while the hyperlink is one of the most important inventions of all time, it also has its negatives. In fact, reblogs may be killing young people. We’re all so easily connected nowadays. 

For more information, read on about an example of how to best talk about suicide on the internet. The CDC has even promulgated sample obituaries for journalists. Here is the type of news report the CDC feels has “high potential for promoting suicide contagion”::

Hundreds turned out Monday for the funeral of John Doe Jr., 15, who shot himself in the head late Friday with his father’s hunting rifle. Town Moderator Brown, along with State Senator Smith and Selectmen’s Chairman Miller, were among the many well-known persons who offered their condolences to the City High School sophomore’s grieving parents, Mary and John Doe Sr. Although no one could say for sure why Doe killed himself, his classmates, who did not want to be quoted, said Doe and his girlfriend, Jane, also a sophomore at the high school, had been having difficulty. Doe was also known to have been a zealous player of fantasy video games. School closed at noon Monday, and buses were on hand to transport students who wished to attend Doe’s funeral. School officials said almost all the student body of twelve hundred attended. Flags in town were flown at half-staff in his honor. Members of the School Committee and the Board of Selectmen are planning to erect a memorial flagpole in front of the high school. Also, a group of Doe’s friends intend to plant a memorial tree in City Park during a ceremony this coming Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Doe was born in Otherville and moved to this town 10 years ago with his parents and sister, Ann. He was an avid member of the high school swim team last spring, and he enjoyed collecting comic books. He had been active in local youth organizations, although he had not attended meetings in several months.

And here is a suggested news report that the CDC feels has “low potential for promoting suicide contagion”:

John Doe Jr., 15, of Maplewood Drive, died Friday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. John, the son of Mary and John Doe Sr., was a sophomore at City High School. John had lived in Anytown since moving here 10 years ago from Otherville, where he was born. His funeral was held Sunday. School counselors are available for any students who wish to talk about his death. In addition to his parents, John is survived by his sister, Ann.