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Founder of online suicide communities on VKontakte arrested

Meduza
13:34, 17 november 2016

Photo: Peter Kovalev / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

On November 16, the Oktyabrsky District Court of St. Petersburg arrested twetny-one-year-old Philipp Budeykin, detaining him until January 14, 2017. Known as Philipp Lis, Budeykin is the administrator of one of the "death groups" on social networking site VKontakte. He is being held on charges of inciting teenagers to commit suicide; the victims include 15 teenagers. Investigators believe that eight such administrators exist in VKontakte's online communities. Budeykin was the administrator of one of them and is, so far, the only suspect in the case.

May 16, 2016, journalist Galina Mursaliyeva reported in publication Novaya Gazeta on online communities in social networking site VKontakte whose members are encouraged to commit suicide. Mursaliyeva claimed that unnamed "adults" acting as "secret" puppeteers "systematically [and] consistently" manipulate teens into committing suicide. The journalist counted 130 suicides committed by children from November 2015 to April 2016. Four children committed suicide on December 25, 2015 alone. According to her, almost all the children were in these online communities on VKontakte. The communities hold contests of sorts in which teenagers are asked to do a number of tasks: to write essays on suicide, to slit their wrists, to draw pictures related to suicide, etc, with the game's endpoint being the actual tast of committing suicide. Refused to perform such tasks would result in being excluded from the group. The article referred to Philipp Lis as one of the groups' supposed administrators. " The article brought away widespread discussion on the topic of teenage suicide. Russia's Investigative Committee launched a criminal case under article 110 of the Criminal Code (on incitement to commit suicide).

On May 17, the creators of the "death groups" themselves talked about their online communities. Publication Lenta.ru described how the groups' administrators were trying to persuade teenagers to commit suicide. The article established that the groups were set up at the initiative of young people and not "adult puppeteers". In particular, the article described how twenty-year-old Philipp Lis created the group using "psychedelic content". On December 8, he announced a flashmob encouraging participants to commit suicide and leave suicide notes on the wall of the online community. The publication claimed that Lis had created the group and launched the flashmob "for fun". Other administrators, said the publication, behaved in the same way. Lis initially confirmed the report, but subsequently denied it. He estimated the number of suicides committed by group members at around 10. He explained that his motivation was to "clean the world of bio-waste". But on May 23, Lis retracted his words. On November 11, Lis again changed his position. In an interview with St. Peterburg.ru, he said that he was pushing children to commit suicide. He admitted that after the publication of the article in Novaya Gazeta, he began to deny the claims out of fear that the group would be closed.

On November 15, Lis was arrested in Moscow. According to investigators, 15 minors in different regions of Russia committed suicide as a result of Lis's urging. Ten people testified against him. Amongst the witnesses were young people who gave detailed and consistent accounts on how Lis urged and persuaded teenagers to commit suicide through conversation in online communities in VKontakte.