Sanctioned Suicide (SS) is an internet forum known for its open discussion and encouragement of suicide and suicide methods. The forum was founded on March 18, 2018, by self-described incels Diego Joaquín Galante and Lamarcus Small, who go by the online pseudonyms Serge and Marquis. Galante and Small created the website after the subreddit r/SanctionedSuicide was banned by Reddit; both the website and the subreddit have been described as the successors to the Usenet newsgroup alt.suicide.holiday. As of September 2022[update], the forum has over 25,000 members,: 13 receiving nearly 10 million page views that same month. Although the forum frames itself as a "pro-choice" suicide forum, it has been widely described as "pro-suicide".:
Type of site
|Launched||March 18, 2018|
Sanctioned Suicide has generated widespread scrutiny from news outlets and government officials for the encouragement of suicide by members on the site, as well as the site's promotion of the use of sodium nitrite as a method of suicide, a previously obscure method. One New York Times report found 45 adults and children who died in connection to the site, and a later report found dozens more. The BBC has identified 21 people who died in connection to the site in the United Kingdom. Access to the forum has been restricted in Italy and Germany.
History and background
The r/SanctionedSuicide subreddit and Sanctioned Suicide have been described as the successors of the Usenet newsgroup alt.suicide.holiday.: 2 On March 14, 2018, r/SanctionedSuicide was banned for breaking Reddit's rules on the promotion of violence,: 285 prompting Galante and Small to create the site on March 18, 2018.: 2 In January 2021, Sanctioned Suicide's original .com domain name was banned by the domain name registrar Epik, allegedly for the presence of minors on the site.: 285 Following the ban, the site moved to a .org domain name.: 285
The New York Times investigation
Megan Twohey and Gabriel Dance of The New York Times reportedly discovered the full names of the site founders during the October 2021 data breach of Epik. Following the breach, Twohey and Dance obtained photos of Galante and Small that matched previous appearances of their pseudonymous identities Serge and Marquis. When contacted by The New York Times, Small stated that he had no involvement with the website, suggested his brother may run the site, and denied his mother's name reportedly listed on police records. Galante acknowledged using the pseudonym Serge on the forum but denied founding or operating it, contradicting records on the site which described him as a co-founder and administrator of the website. After the two co-founders were named by The New York Times, Galante and Small announced their resignations as administrators, writing that they handed the forum over to a member going by the username RainAndSadness.
In an interview with the Poynter Institute, Twohey stated that the decision to name the website and the suicide methods promoted by the site were "two of the biggest ethical issues that we had ever dealt with". Following discussions with medical experts, law enforcement, and families, The New York Times team chose to name the website and the preservative once in the report, so as not to potentially raise the website's profile.
Galante and Small
Galante and Small describe themselves as incels and run a number of incel and manosphere related forums where members' discussions have been characterized as condoning, downplaying, or advocating violence against women. A September 2022 report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate described one of the forums as the largest forum dedicated to incel ideology.: 11 In response to a 2019 BuzzFeed News report which disclosed their connection to the incel forums, Small stated that the site's moderation was handled independently of the incel sites. Sanctioned Suicide has been noted as the only forum run by Galante and Small that does not restrict access by women.: 13 The New York Times investigation also reported that Small framed the site as part of a fight against censorship after the site received scrutiny for several deaths associated with the forum.
The site is divided into three forums: Recovery, Suicide Discussion, and Offtopic.: 4060 The recovery forum hosts recovery-related support discussions, the suicide discussion forum hosts discussions on suicide methods, and the offtopic forum hosts discussions on hobbies and other general interests.: 4060 The suicide discussion forum is substantially more popular than the other two forums,: 4060 including both detailed discussions of suicide methods and encouragement to commit suicide, which users refer to by the euphemism "catching the bus".: 13, 16 The site also hosts live chats and private messaging.
An April 2023 study published by the Association for Computing Machinery found that most new users were active only in the first few weeks after making their accounts and their first posts were more likely to be about suicide and methods.: 4061–4062 According to an informal survey conducted on the site, half of the forum's userbase were 25 or younger. The forum has been widely described as pro-suicide,: although the site frames itself as "pro-choice" and denies that it actively encourages suicide. While the site includes links to suicide hotlines and other mental health resources, Small noted that registrants who only sought the recovery forum would be unlikely to be approved.
A December 2021 New York Times investigation identified 45 members who died by suicide in connection to the website, with a later report finding dozens more. In February 2022, the BBC also identified 21 people who died in connection to the site in the United Kingdom. The New York Times investigation also identified more than 500 threads where users announced their suicide plans and did not continue to post.: 1 Among those identified by The New York Times was a 22-year-old woman from Glasgow who died by suicide after meeting a man on the site who had previously sexually assaulted and assisted in the suicides of several other women through the forum. In December 2022, he pled guilty to culpable and reckless conduct with a sexual element and is reportedly the first person in the UK convicted in connection to the site.
The New York Times also identified an Australian who died by suicide after members of Sanctioned Suicide taunted him and suggested he should film his death. An investigation by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on the same death reported that his family believes the forum was the deciding factor in his death. Multiple parents of children who died by suicide after spending time on the site have publicly called on the forum to shut down, including a Facebook group with over 1,000 members. The moderators of the forum have since restricted the accounts of dead users to prevent family members or law enforcement from accessing them.
In April 2019, the original .com domain name of Sanctioned Suicide was blocked by the Australian Federal Police under Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act 1997. A November 2022 Australian Broadcasting Corporation investigation found that between 2017 and October 2020, there had been 20 suicide deaths from the meat preservative sodium nitrite in Australia, an increase from zero deaths across the previous 16 years. In response, the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration reclassified the substance in 2022, further restricting its sale. Following the publication of the ABC investigation, which led some internet service providers to block the site, Sanctioned Suicide blocked access to the site in Australia, stating "anti-liberty countries will just be blocked".
In March 2020, the site was blocked from online search results in Germany. Prosecutors in Italy blocked access to the site in June 2021 following the deaths of two Italian teenagers by suicide. In December 2021, seven members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland to clarify what action could be taken against the site under U.S. law. Following a statement from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Microsoft Bing responded by lowering the ranking of the site in its search results, however both Google and Bing declined requests to remove the site from search results absent a legal requirement. While many U.S. states have laws against assisting suicide, federal law provides immunity from liability for web operators for most user-generated content. April Foreman, a psychologist on the executive board of the American Association of Suicidology, argued that rather than block the site, better systems of support for people with suicidal ideation need to be created.
In response to The New York Times investigation, Uruguayan law enforcement launched an investigation against Galante, who resides in Uruguay. However, sources from the prosecutor's office stated that "it is very difficult to establish a crime"[b] since Uruguayan law requires personal involvement.
- While parts of the site can be viewed without an account, registration is required to post new threads, reply, react, message, and access the private subforum.
- Spanish: "es muy difícil que haya un delito"
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- Love, Shayla (November 19, 2020). "People Are Dying After Joining a 'Pro-Choice' Suicide Forum". Vice News. Archived from the original on December 28, 2022. Retrieved February 10, 2023.
- Dance, Gabriel J. X.; Twohey, Megan (December 21, 2021). "Lawmakers Urge Big Tech to 'Mitigate Harm' of Suicide Site and Seek Justice Inquiry". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on February 13, 2023. Retrieved February 10, 2023.
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- Brown, Jennings (December 5, 2016). "The Strange Legacy Of The Internet's First Sanctioned Suicide Forum". Vocativ. Archived from the original on February 10, 2023. Retrieved February 10, 2023.
- Dilkes, Jane (June 1, 2022). "Quantifying Changes in Language to Evaluate the Social and Psychological Effect of Participation in a Pro-Choice Suicide Forum". Workshop Proceedings of the 16th International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media. doi:10.36190/2022.69.
- Dilkes, Jane (2022). The social and psychological work of metaphor: a corpus linguistic investigation (PhD thesis). University of Birmingham.
- Nashrulla, Tasneem (June 6, 2019). "Incels Are Running An Online Suicide Forum That Was Blamed For A Young Woman's Death". BuzzFeed News. Archived from the original on February 10, 2023. Retrieved February 10, 2023.
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- Sartori, Elisa; Pajola, Luca; Da San Martino, Giovanni; Conti, Mauro (April 30, 2023). "The Impact of Covid-19 on Online Discussions: The Case Study of the Sanctioned Suicide Forum". WWW '23: Proceedings of the ACM Web Conference 2023. WWW '23. New York: Association for Computing Machinery. pp. 4060–4064. doi:10.1145/3543507.3583879. ISBN 978-1-4503-9416-1. S2CID 258333709.
- Gutierrez, Lisa (March 6, 2022). "These Kansas Citians died by suicide. A website showed them how, and it's all legal". The Kansas City Star. Retrieved July 23, 2023.
- "Man jailed for trying to get student to take to her own life". BBC News. December 22, 2022. Retrieved August 5, 2023.
- Bridges, Alicia (November 21, 2022). "A pro-suicide website linked to deaths is now blocked to Australians, but not because of the families who spoke out". ABC News. Archived from the original on February 10, 2023. Retrieved February 10, 2023.
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- "Fiscalía investigará a uruguayo presuntamente vinculado a web que promociona el suicidio" [Prosecutor's Office will investigate a Uruguayan allegedly linked to a website that promotes suicide]. Montevideo Portal (in Spanish). Archived from the original on February 20, 2023. Retrieved February 26, 2023.