Web Suicide: Kill Your Online Self

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Do you spend too much time on social networks following the lives of friends you probably haven’t talked to in years? Is your online life wrecking your real life? Well, one new site is trying to help people make a dramatic change to their virtual social lives.

The Web 2.0 Suicide Machine launched last week with one mission: to encourage users to kill themselves online… by deleting all of their information from social networking sites. Essentially, you hand over your account information to Suicide Machine and it will run a program that erases your profile and deletes all of your friends and messages one-by-one. The site will then change your username and password so you can’t log back in.

The site, which was created by Moddr, a medialab based in the Netherlands, currently allows users to eliminate their accounts on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter, and they are planning to provide a similar tool for deleting your Flickr account. As we write this, 865 people have actually gone through with it. A total of 56,000 friends have been permanently unfriended and more than 200,000 tweets have been deleted forever. That’s not too shabby for a brand new site.

The obvious question you might have is why anyone (let alone hundreds of people) would decide to use this service? Well, the Suicide Machine posts testimonials and the reasons vary. One user called DirectTweets wrote, “I’m leaving Twitter because nobody wants to follow me!!!” Another user, Kyle Roesler, was apparently frustrated with the limited success they had on LinkedIn. “Goodbye linkedin, you never did me any good. RIP”

We emailed with Gordan Savicic, 30, the software developer behind the site and he told us that “everyone should have the right to quit [their] 2.0-ified life.” While he admits sites like Facebook have some “good aspects,” like keeping in touch with friends and family abroad, he feels these sites tend to “disconnect” people from one another in real life and make them more antisocial. On top of that, he argues that “people are not fully aware of the privacy-tradeoffs” that come with using social networking sites. As Savicic points out, when you normally ask Facebook and other sites to delete your accounts, traces of you remain on the site indefinitely.

Ultimately, though, the big lure of this site is not only that it’s an efficient way to get rid of your accounts, but also that it turns this purging process into more of a spectacle. “It feels utterly boring to manually delete your friends, groups and posts one by one,” Savicic said. “One of the nicest features [of our site] is that you can lean back and watch how the machine is executing your own 2.0 suicide.”

According to Savicic, who also has the strange (or possible prestigious) title of Chief Euthanasia Officer, the Suicide Machine originally started with a small club event in the beginning of 2009, where 15 people tried out a prototype of the Web site. The project was intended as an “artistic” experiment. Not surprisingly though, some of these social networking sites have taken issue with it.

Facebook in particular has retaliated against the Suicide Machine for trying to kill off its users. According to the Consumerist, Facebook banned the Suicide Machine from accessing their site by blocking their IP address. Call it an extreme form of suicide prevention. According to a message on the main page of the Suicide Machine, “Facebook started to block our suicidemachine from their servers without any comment! We are currently looking in [sic.] ways to circumvent this ungrounded restriction imposed on our service!”

A spokesperson for Facebook told us that the company is "currently investigating and considering whether to take further action." We asked why it makes a difference whether a user deletes their account through Facebook or through SuicideMachine. The sticking point, according to the spokesperson, is that SuicideMachine "scrapes Facebook pages." In other words, Facebook contends that the SuicideMachine permanently extracts information from the site, which is against their terms of use.

Facebook "prohibits the scraping of information because it doesn’t respect the decisions users make about how to share their data," the spokesperson said in an email. "This site was logging in to users’ accounts on their behalf, which was providing it with access not only to data belonging to the user who had allowed it, but also to data that the user does not specifically own (data belonging to friends)."

We communicated with Savicic shortly before the ban and he didn’t seem too worried about Facebook at the time. “In our opinion, we are not violating anything stated in their terms of service,” he said. “However, we are getting prepared... We’ll definitely try to re-route our traffic through different IP addresses.” When we asked him to clarify, Savicic said they’d rely on other servers that were “hosted by friends, hackers and activists.” In this way, he hopes to cloak the site so that they can keep performing their service on Facebook.

In the meantime, even if you’re not interested in killing off your online identity just yet, the Suicide Machine is loaded with entertaining facts and features like testimonials and last words from users who’ve gone through it. A banner at the top of the screen shifts between slogans like “Improve your relationships, get rid of stalkers!” and “May you rest in a better real life!” Still, it remains to be seen whether this site will have a long life or die young.

—For a comprehensive credit report, visit the BankingMyWay.com Credit Center.

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