Leon Jenkins was 43 when he took his own life in July 2018. He livestreamed his suicide on an internet forum where users can freely – and viciously – insult, berate, provoke and abuse each other. The idea is to make people leave the site when they can take no more.

Gregory Tomkins and Kevin Whitrick also broadcast their suicides live on the internet. All three were active members of online insult communities. There are thousands of people who log on to such platforms for the sole reason of abusing others in an attempt to force them to leave the thread – a distressing online power struggle of domination and submission.

Reviewing this case, it seems that at least two of these men had something in common: Leon Jenkins reportedly told his abusive community that he suffered from depression; Kevin Whitrick was said to have had a history of depression. The coroner in an inquest into his death called for a ban on these sites to prevent further suicides.

This is primarily because there is no screening process for vulnerability on these forums that you might find, for example, in prisons. In fact, there is nothing to cover the issue beyond a direct question at the registration stage, and this is easily manipulated and really serves only to protect the site not the user. Even if a would-be user did highlight their vulnerability and were excluded, this could potentially do greater harm by preventing them from connecting with others, if it was the only form of contact they had with other people. The solution is neither straightforward nor obvious.

– John Synnott, Calli Tzani Pepelasi & Maria Ioannou

Read more: Online suicide and the dark psychology of internet insult forums

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