The Toronto Star
Wednesday, March 12, 1997

Internet suicide `hotbed' offers `pages' of advice

But parents can block access, experts say

by Barbara Turnbull

There are "pages after pages after pages" of suicide how-to information easily accessible to anyone on the Internet, says the head of a suicide prevention organization.

"You can hook into conversations on how to do it best, how to do it easy, how to do it with other people, what the best experiences have been", said Neville Twine of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. Such conversations - which take place in private "chat rooms" - led a 21-year-old Orillia man to form a suicide pact with a man from Chicago, police say. Their bodies were found in a Toronto hotel Sunday.

The pair met and got a recipe for a deadly cocktail of drugs on the Internet, said Metro police Sergeant Nigel Fontaine.

That's tragic, but no surprise, according to Twine.

The Internet is a "hotbed" of uncensored information that can influence a vulnerable person, whether it's an impressionable child or a depressed adult, Twine said.

"You lose your purpose in life and then all of a sudden you're on the Internet and you can see all sorts of very easy, very effective ways to end your life", he said.

Children's Access

Even worse are the predators who engage youngsters in "chat rooms" and try to arrange a rendezvous with them. Twine said he has heard of several cases where adults have tried to pick up kids they've met online.

"We try and streetproof our kids by saying `Don't talk to strange men and women on the street', and we have to do the same thing with respect to kids on the Internet", he added.

For parents who want help censoring their children's Internet access, there are several filtering software systems available.

The systems enable parents to choose where their child can go, what they can do, and even how long they can be online, said Susan Getgood, a spokesperson for a program called Cyberpatrol.

Available through most Internet providers, the programs "allow you to enforce your parental rules about the Internet".

Cyberpatrol also has a feature that can prevent a child from revealing any personal information, such as name, address and age, she added.

But no system is fail-proof, Fontaine warned.

Parents interested in blocking systems can access them on the World Wide Web.

Cyberpatrol -
blocks access by time of day or sites by content.

Net Nanny -
screens World Wide Web sites, news groups, and text messages.

CYBERsitter -
filters predefined Internet sites.

Copyright © 1997 by The Toronto Star All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.