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Website logs deaths of MySpace users

Website logs deaths of MySpace users

Here are the headlines: Hillary Rutledge, 19, was killed when the car she was driving hit two tractor-trailers; Desirae Scott, 19, passed away from an accidental drug overdose; Nathan Benner, 22, drowned and his body was found in a gorge; Mat Hirstein, 30, died when he fell off a ladder and hit his head while trying to catch a raccoon.

Welcome to the world of mydeathspace.com, a website set up by a 26-year-old legal clerk from California that records the deaths of MySpace users. Since its launch in December 2005 the site has accumulated 3,000 obituaries and 11,000 members.

Unsurprisingly, given the nature of the networking site MySpace, most of the deaths are of young people, many of them suicides, drug-related or road-related.

"Life can end at any moment," said Mike Patterson, the website's founder. "Kids are kids: we have every kind of death imaginable on the site. Most of the deaths are car accidents and teens behaving irresponsibly. Most of them are preventable."

While Mr Patterson has claimed an altruistic motive for the website - he bills it as a precautionary forum to warn young people of the consequences of irresponsible behaviour - it may carry greater significance as showing how customs are changing. Death and mourning were once treated with reverence, spoken about in hushed tones, if at all; on an internet forum the tone is anything but restrained.

"How people mourn is changing," Mr Patterson said. "There are so many memorial websites now, it's easier to do. I can't go and mourn someone who died across the country but I can visit their website."

Such is the speed with which mydeathspace lists the recently deceased that many still have functioning MySpace profiles. Take 18-year-old Ashley Miller who, in the words of the site, was one of two motorists "killed in a head-on collision caused by text messaging". Her mydeathspace entry links to her MySpace page, where she states that she is "off to college - now for the real partying to begin".

In cyberspace, it appears, you never die: the company's policy is to remove an inactive profile only at the request of a family member.

Scroll down Miller's page and tributes to the dead woman appear, most of them conventional messages of condolence expressing grief and sympathy, albeit with some irreverence: "OK babicakes, we had some fun times swimming in our backyard."

The site includes foreign deaths, the bulk of them involving US soldiers killed in Iraq. "They're usually a lot more sombre," Mr Patterson said. "They usually say things like 'thank you for your sacrifice', even though most of our people are young and don't necessarily support the war."

He denies he is exploiting the deaths of others or treating them inappropriately. As well as the deadpan headlines on the obituaries the site has a death map, showing the locations of the recently deceased: a figure in a black shroud indicates a death, a red devil with horns a murder.

The website features banner advertisements for insurance companies but Mr Patterson says he does not make any money from the site: "I do this on the side. If someone says we're exploiting these people or profiting from their deaths, that's just not right. This isn't a money-making enterprise. I have a full-time job."


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