While I was pulling an all-nighter this weekend watching YouTube, my stomach started to growl even though I'd had like a whole thing of goldfish crackers and a bottle of Kahlua, and as I popped a diet pill and scratched a couple scabs off my forearm, I had a vision of the eleven ways the Internet could kill you. (Please don't sue: Of course not all the sites and practices listed below are directly responsible for any deaths. But if you're already at risk, you might just get yourself killed when you use them.)
At risk: Daredevils, fictional characters
Case 1: While trying to perform a stunt for YouTube, four teens crashed their Ford Explorer, injuring three and killing one. No details on how awesome the clip would have been, but hopefully it'd be more exciting than "ghost riding," the 2005-07 fad of rolling an idling car down the street while dancing beside it. The result of that fad, besides a few lame videos, was two deaths. Other stupid deadly stunts include subway surfing and fake stunts that end up in banner ads.
Case 2: A man who explained on YouTube how to tie a hangman's noose has been accused of inciting suicide. A few days after the news reported it, someone else posted instructions (though this user has posted plenty of other knot-tying videos, and who could hang themselves with the festive purple and yellow rope he uses?).
Case 3: Of course fictional characters die often and violently: Lonelygirl15, Harry Potter, and the radio star.
At risk: The lonely
Case 1: Remarkably, no charges were filed in the case of the family who carried on a hoax relationship with 13-year-old depression sufferer Megan Meier over MySpace, then "broke up" with her and thus driving her to suicide. But this is only our first glimpse at two themes of Internet-caused deaths: Tragic romance and preying on the lonely.
Case 2: In this case, MySpace technically saved lives. Cops investigated a 12-year-old boy's MySpace death list, warned everyone who was on it, and searched his home. They didn't find weapons and he said he was just fooling around, so he was just charged with juvenile delinquency. Other death threat cases include a dog and another empty threat against high school students. But just to be safe I make my little sister keep a Google alert on her name, cause she''d be the first to go if some trenchcoated freak started shooting up the cool kids in her school.
Case 3: Of course while stupid people may reveal their murder plans on MySpace, they may be inspired by the site too. Heather Kane saw another girl on her boyfriend's profile and hired a hitman to kill her. Good thing she bumped into an undercover cop instead.
At risk: Anyone who pisses off a muslim
Case 1: A Saudi Arabian father beat and shot his daughter earlier this year for chatting on Facebook. A preacher in the Islamic country called the site a "door to lust;" many Saudi women use aliases on the site and post drawings instead of photos. But there are still plenty of photos of hookups in the Facebook group "Single and Looking in Saudi Arabia."
Case 2: After a Jewish woman in Melbourne rejected a friend offer from one Ibrahim Dirani, he allegedly wrote to her, "I am Hezbollah and I am going to kill you and all of your family — promise you."
At risk: Viewers of extreme or illegal porn and the people who know them
Case 1: It's hard to feel too sorry for those who kill themselves after they're implicated in child porn rings, like these four suicides in 1998 and these six in 2004.
Case 2: Porn doesn't only kill the depraved. The story of Jane Longhurst, an English woman killed by "a man obsessed with violent sexual pornography," was tragic enough to encourage many UK lawmakers to ban extreme porn.
At risk: The terribly gullible
Case 1: Spammers and scammers can easily take your money if you're dumb enough to give them your passwords and financial info. But some Nigerian scams go far beyond online fraud; many scammers lure their victims to Nigeria to continue paying money in person; fifteen victims were killed after they got suspicious.
At risk: Those already at risk of dying
Case 1: There's a trick to making listicles like this: Put the weakest item in the middle. Unfortunately the New York Times spent an entire trend piece on the bogus idea of "death by blogging." But Gizmodo editor Brian Lam tells me, "Only bogus to lazy bloggers. I did 75 hours this week and anyone over fifty would die doing that."
At risk: The already dead
Case 1: Seung-Hui Cho bought empty clips and holsters on Ebay before his Virginia Tech rampage. He got his guns and ammo elsewhere, though Ebay notes that the sale of ammunition on Ebay is legal.
Case 2: Ebay's death profits tend to come from the memorabilia. Celebrity deaths bring predictable results, like sales of Pope tchotchkes and autographed Heath Ledger posters. But Ebay has also hosted auctions for supposed Columbia shuttle pieces, video of insurgents shooting down planes in Iraq, the car used in a murder, and O.J. Simpson's book.
At risk: Druggies
Case 1: Internet drug sales are ridiculously easy (see "spam" above), so easy that every decent men's magazine did an "I ordered Viagra off the Internet" story by 2005. But that means irresponsible doctors can prescribe dangerous drugs, such as this 2002 case of deadly drugs sold online, or this case of a doctor whose patients sometimes became addicted or were hospitalized, or a 2007 case where a 57-year-old Canadian woman died after taking an illegal sedative she ordered online.
At risk: Suicides
Case 1: Webcam suicide is one of the darkest modern phenomena, an example of loneliness and despair in a supposed age of connection and hope. Those who have fallen that far and recovered may want to forget it ever happened. A webcammer named Stacy has long insisted that despite reports, she did not try to kill herself on camera in 2001 by overdosing on pills but merely took some Advil "to get a few hours sleep" — on her bathroom floor.
Case 2: While her viewers worried about her and called the cops to save her, those watching Brandon Vedas in 2003 egged him on. He OD'd on five drugs and died a room away from his unsuspecting mother.
Case 3: A father named Kevin Whitrick hanged himself after the apparent encouragement of people watching his webcam; viewers later said they thought it was a joke, and indeed they'd acted worried after seeing him die. After all, he was in an insult chat room, which brings us to another cause of death:
2. Chat rooms
At risk: Hopeless romantics
Case 1: A man rejected in real life by his chat room lover in 1999 cut his own head off with a chainsaw in her front yard. Enough said.
Case 2: Plenty of innocents have been killed by online predators like the man who killed an altar girl, the Texas A&M killer, and this guy in a rural North Carolina trailer.
1. World of Warcraft
At risk: 10 million players, particularly the already crazy ones
Case 1: World of Warcraft addiction may not necessarily be deadly for the player, but it can be hell on their family life. Of course, Kim Trenor was probably crazy long before she moved cross-country with her 2-year-old to see a guy she met on the game, and definitely before she and Royce Zeigler beat "Baby Grace" to death. But if it weren't for that damned game she never would have met the allegedly abusive Zeigler.
Case 2: WoW isn't the first game to drive addicts mad. At least one Everquest player allegedly shot herself after getting hooked on the game.
Case 3: And of course any time you put a beautiful bit of fantasy in the world, some kid will try to imitate it. Happened with Superman, happened with WoW when a Chinese boy jumped off a 24-story building. His parents sued game maker Blizzard saying he was imitating the game, in which some players like to platform-jump, an activity totally unrelated to actually playing. Again, totally not WoW's fault, but something had to convince that boy he could leap off a tower.