Internet played a part in teen's suicide
December 5, 2004
Randy Richmond & Marissa Nelson, London Free Press

The bullying against 15-year-old Joshua Melo began over the Internet. In the end, his mother says, the Strathroy-area student who took his own life -- hanging himself from a backyard tree -- turned to the same technology to learn how to end his torment.

The death nine days ago of the teen driven to suicide by bullying, including homophobic slurs, has raised troubling questions about teenage harrassment and what can be done to prevent its excesses.

It has also cast a spotlight on the Internet, which experts say has become a sinister new tool in the armament of bullies.

"One of the insidious things about the Internet violence is that is it anonymous and it can be relentless," said Alan Leschied, an expert in youth violence and a professor at the University of Western Ontario.

"That's why it is so successful. There is no accountability attached to it."

The Internet is well built for social aggression, the kind of bullying that involves verbal tormenting and mass taunting.

Bullying is often seen as physical violence, but social aggression can be as dangerous, Leschied said.

"Social aggression is lethal and we've got to realize it."

With the Internet, students can taunt and torment others in codes parents barely understand, said Thames Valley District school board trustee Peter Jaffe.

"It's a subculture and we parents can't keep up with it," he said.

Worst of all, the Internet takes away a victim's haven, said Susan Dale, learning co-ordinator for safe schools at the Thames Valley board.

"You used to be safe from bullying when you got home," Dale said. "Now with the Internet, victims can be targeted 24 hours a day. They are no longer safe because these messages are coming in."

Maria Melo said a family audit of her son's computer showed he had visited Internet sites containing information about how to commit suicide.