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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 4 February, 2003, 13:18 GMT
Net grief for online 'suicide'
Man on the internet
Did virtual buddies contribute to Mr Vedas' death?
Condolences have been pouring into a website set up in tribute to a young man who died online.

Brandon Vedas, a 21-year-old computer expert from Arizona, USA, killed himself with a lethal dose of prescription drugs in January while chatting to online buddies.

In a macabre twist to the story, a transcript of his final hours found by his family a week after his death shows that his online friends egged him on to take more and more drugs.

The cocktail of prescription drugs which killed Mr Vedas, who spent much of his spare time on the net, included Klonopin, Methadone and Restoril.

Online boasting

Questions are being asked about how much liability should be taken by the man's online companions and by the internet service provider which hosted a chatroom dedicated to a discussion of drugs.

Many of the online community who knew Mr Vedas only as Ripper have sent their condolences to his family.

There is an issue about how closely internet service providers scrutinise what is happening in chatrooms

Robin Bynoe, lawyer
On the night he died he had a captive audience watching him boast about his drug tolerance and take a cocktail of drugs and alcohol.

The transcript showed that, while some cautioned him against taking too many, others egged him on.

"I told u I was hardcore," were his last coherent words according to reports.

It is believed that his online buddies panicked as Mr Vedas' condition deteriorated and some tried to call his mobile phone and emergency services.

Prosecution

The transcript shows that some were worried that they would be implicated in his death.

Mr Vedas' brother is keen to bring a prosecution against his virtual companions, who he accuses of contributing to his death.

It is believed that around 12 surfers had logged onto the webcam on the night Mr Vedas died but the Internet Relay Chat technology they were using meant that all were logged on anonymously.

Robin Bynoe, a lawyer with UK law firm Charles Russell, believes there is little precedent in law for such a prosecution.

There is some truth in the idea that people act more outrageously online

James Crabtree, iSociety
"I have never heard of a case where encouraging someone to take drugs amounted to aiding and abetting their death," he said.

"However there is an issue about how closely internet service providers scrutinise what is happening in chatrooms," he added.

Censorship?

The tragedy has reopened the debate about whether the net should be censored and also about how online communities interact with each other.

iSociety, a UK project looking at how ordinary people use technology, has done some work on online communities.

"There is some truth in the idea that people act more outrageously online and say and do things they wouldn't in person," said i-Society researcher James Crabtree.

"But generally online groups are just like any other group," he said.

"It strikes me as dangerous to make sweeping generalisations about closing websites down based around one extreme example," he added.

See also:

04 Feb 03 | Technology
28 Jan 03 | England
29 Nov 02 | Education
22 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
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