‘Social media suicide’ in focus after Japan ‘Twitter killer’

Natsuko Fukue –

The grisly beheading of nine young people lured by a suspected serial killer after tweeting suicidal thoughts has sparked debate about the use of social media in Japan.
The suspect, Takahiro Shiraishi, dubbed the ‘Twitter killer’, reportedly lured his victims by trawling social media. The gruesome discovery has prompted the government to consider tightening internet regulations to restrict suicidal posts.
Police apprehended Shiraishi while investigating the disappearance of a 23-year-old woman, who had reportedly tweeted she wanted to take her own life.
“I’m looking for someone to die with me”, she tweeted using the hashtag “suicide recruitment”.
Like his other victims, Shiraishi used social media to draw her in, telling her he could help her commit suicide or even die alongside her.
Twitter also proved to be his downfall, as police persuaded a young woman to contact him via social media to arrange a meeting, enabling investigators to trap him.
Four days after the bodies were found in Shiraishi’s apartment last month, Twitter unveiled new rules stating users “may not promote or encourage suicide or self-harm”.
The government is considering tightening regulations on “inappropriate” websites on suicide, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said last week at a meeting with ministers.
Japan has the highest suicide rate of any Group of Seven (G7) industrialised nation, with more than 20,000 people taking their own lives each year.
While the overall suicide rate has been falling, it has continued to rise among young adults and schoolchildren.
In some cases, victims have committed mass suicide after meeting on so-called “suicide websites”, a phenomenon that has prompted the government to crack down on people using the internet to post their death wishes.
Experts say the authorities’ approach to the issue risks isolating suicidal individuals even further.
“It has long been a taboo in Japan to talk about death and suicide… but it’s easy to talk about it on social media,” Akiko Mura, an executive member of Befrienders Worldwide Tokyo, said.
The Tokyo branch of the non-profit suicide prevention group, which offers a hotline phone service from 8 pm to 6 am, receives non-stop calls throughout the night. — AFP