Internet Provider, QQ, Sued Over Youth Suicide
When is an Internet Service Provider responsible for the action of one of
its clients? This is about to be tested in China where the biggest provider,
QQ, is currently before the courts in the Zhejiang province.
The story began this year when two young men, Fan, aged 20 and Zhang, aged
22, met over the internet and planned to commit suicide together.
On the 22nd of June 2010 the two bought some charcoal and
alcohol to take to a local hotel.
After sealing the room the coal was set on fire with the intention of the
boys dying from inhaling carbon monoxide.
What is believed to have happened then is that Zhang began to suffer from
headaches and left Fan to die at around 5pm. It is alleged that after
ignoring a number of text messages just before 11pm that night Zhang notified
the hotel to alert them to his friend being inside the room and being in
Fan’s parents are now seeking compensation from QQ arguing that the
internet provider should have filtered and blocked websites in which provide
information in assisting in the suicide.
In defense QQ argues that the task of monitoring it’s 500 million users is
impossible and the screening of the word “suicide” would be an infringement of
This is a debate that has captured the world, with policy makers falling
into diametrically opposed positions. Freedom of Speech verses
In the United States, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has argued that filtering
internet content, as is done in Iran, Egypt and China are in contravention of
the United Nations Charter of Human Rights that uphold the right of Free
On the other side of the debate the proponents of mandatory internet
filtering place on top of their lists the blocking of violent, sexually
inappropriate and terrorist related sites, that provide information that pose
a danger to the public.
Theory is great, yet those who have had experience in dealing with
regulations guiding censorship claim decisions are made on an ad hoc basis and
on inconsistent guidelines.
There have been examples of where suicide information has been
blocked. In 2006 euthanasia advocate, Dr Phillip Nitschke, Exit International released “The
Peaceful Pill Handbook” that advised the choices available to those people who
wished to end their life that was refused classification.
Before the US Congress is a bill that will open the debate on censorship
and the responsibility of Internet Service Providers to block what is deemed as
The next few years will unveil the direction policy makers will
take on internet filtering, but until that time service providers, such
as QQ will have to be guided on outcomes such as the case bought by
Fan’s parents against the company.
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