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As ‘insult’ chatrooms claim 3rd victim in the UK demand grows for banning forums

Sajeda Momin

Published: Updated:

A 43-year-old man in the UK hanged himself live on the internet in front of viewers around the globe on a video chat forum.

The unnamed father committed suicide during a live broadcast on a social media website called Paltalk, even as other users of the chatroom goaded him into killing himself.

The builder was found dead in his flat in Cardiff, Wales after police were alerted by another Paltalk user. Online friends of the victim said that he was ‘mercilessly bullied’ on the video chatroom and was egged on by other users.

He became the third British person to commit suicide on the same social media site. The first victim was in 2007 and the second on Christmas Day last year.

The latest person to die was suffering from depression and when he opened up about his suicidal thoughts to fellow chatroom users, some of them reportedly told him: “Why don’t you just do it? Your life isn’t worth it”. He was a member of a sub-forum on Paltalk where users hurl insults at each other.

“You could see they were making him the next target to push to suicide. That’s what they do. They pick on someone who is weak and make a game out of it. He was driven to his death,” said a fellow user who was too frightened to be identified.

A friend described the builder who had recently broken up with his partner as a “lovely, fun, good person” who “would still be alive if it wasn’t for the vicious people who drove him to his death”.

“These chatrooms need to be shut down,” said the friend.

Video chat service

Paltalk is a New York based video chat service with more than 200 million global users whose parent company made £20 million last year.

Founded in 1998, the service is now owned by AVM Software whose CEO is internet mogul Clifford Lerner, a 39-year-old multimillionaire who bought Paltalk in 2016.

It allows subscribers to video chat with up to 10 people for free and hosts thousands of free chatrooms. It is popular with first generation internet users as it has been around long before Facebook.

In 2007, internet safety charities criticized Paltalk after Kevin Whitrick became the first Brit to take his own life after being goaded by chatroom users.

The 42-year-old father from Telford in Shropshire was in a special “insult” chatroom with 50 other users who initially thought he was “play acting” when he hung himself.

Banning chatrooms

The coroner at Whitrick’s inquest 11 years ago had asked for such chatrooms to be banned, but nothing was done.

The second victim was Gregory Tomkins who also hung himself live on Paltalk on Christmas Day last year.

Online friends of Tomkins described him as a “lovely soul” who was not suited to chatrooms where one got insulted. The third victim’s relatives are still reeling from the horrific news of his death after his body was discovered.

A spokesman for South Wales Police said: “We can confirm the sudden death of a 43-year-old man at a property on July 25. There are no suspicious circumstances”.

However, there are many who believe that social media and trolling desperately needs regulating.

“The internet has become a very dark place. The anonymity it provides brings out the worst in people. Trolls can be so cruel venting all their frustrations knowing there will be no punishment,” said Nasreen Haq, a psychologist.

“Websites which are earning millions need to be more accountable for what they are unleashing,” she added.

Jury is out on whether intervention of authorities or exercising personal restraint will indeed restrict this menace before many more lives are lost.