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8/31/2006
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MySpace Users Mourn At MyDeathSpace

Inspired by lasting MySpace profiles, a Web site creator fills a niche for remembering the dead with MyDeathSpace.com.

It all began after Mike Patterson read the news about a father who brutally murdered his family and then committed suicide due to mounting debt.

Putting down the paper, he searched on the social networking site MySpace.com to find the daughter's name, and, after seeing several more profiles of kids who were deceased, wondered how many other users of the site had died.

Patterson's findings inspired the 25-year-old from San Francisco to begin building a site to educate youth, he said in an e-mail. MyDeathSpace began as a message board in August/September 2005, with the purpose of tracking all MySpace.com members who had passed away. MyDeathSpace.com, launched in January 2006, links to news storied culled from the Web and victims' MySpace pages. The site gives mourners a place to connect online.

It will also give behavior researchers at the University of South Florida insight into a topic they want to study -- the psychosocial effects that social networks might have on youth, and whether online memorials and forums that focus on death encourage teen suicides or comfort those grieving.

"I've heard reports of young people who got into destructive dialogue online where they would dare each other to die, or share ways to complete the suicide successfully," said Ilene Berson, an associate professor at the University of Florida's Mental Health Institute. "Without doing the research we really have no idea, but it would be exciting to find that people who engage in social networking sites are less likely to commit suicide."

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year olds, behind accidents and homicides, she said. Understanding the dynamics of how youth today talk online about suicide could eventually help build prevention initiatives, Berson said Wednesday.

"We plan to submit the request for the project's federal funding in October to the National Institute of Mental Health," she said.

Berson said that the Internet lacks policing efforts similar to those at newspapers and broadcast outlets, where news stories about suicides are sometimes subdued.

The digital age has created new ways for kids to send trouble signals. A Capistrano Valley High School teenager shot himself to death after posting suicide warnings on a Web site for teens and young adults, according to a page on MyDeathSpace.com.

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