Editor-At-Large: We must rescue boys from cyberspace so they can live in the real world

The suicides of three teenage boys in Northern Ireland show the unhealthy grip of the virtual world on the young
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White boys don't just lag behind at school, they spend too much time on their computers. And an increasing number kill themselves. Northern Ireland is in the grip of a spate of teenage suicides - in 1997, 138 young people took their lives. By 2006 the figure had risen to 291, 37 per cent up on 2005. Most of them were white working-class teenage boys living in housing estates in rural areas.

Police in Ulster have been investigating a pair of deaths so distressing that it almost makes me cry to write about them - Barry McGlade, 20, and Nicholas Jamieson, 24, were found drowned, wearing weighted rucksacks at Gortin Lake in County Tyrone. It is believed they entered into a suicide pact via an internet chatroom.

Craigavon Senior High School in Laurelvale, County Armagh, has seen three boys commit suicide by hanging in a month. One thing they had in common was that they spent hours every day on the internet.

The rapid growth of internet suicide chatrooms is shocking, and has been largely overlooked in coverage of the Timothy Cox case, which saw the police smash a paedophile ring operating through a website called "Kids the Light of Our Lives". Experts have warned that the internet enables paedophiles to carry out any action they please, and that child abuse has increased as a result.

But the internet's true negative power is to replace real relationships and friendships with cyber pals. Suicide chatrooms are places where young men can be taken on a journey by other participants that they may not return from - ending with a suicide for no reason except to prove themselves to other chatroom members. We seem to be exercised about the dangers of young people and gangs, overlooking the fact that gangs exist on the internet that are far more powerful than a bunch of miserable hoodies hanging out at the local shopping centre.

Nine young people have committed suicide in West Belfast in the past five weeks and one small village in County Down has seen 11 young people take their lives in the past year. Young men may have been bullied at school, may feel cut off and may have problems finding jobs. But they don't want to talk face to face about this. They prefer to log on to a chatroom and adopt another persona. Those Laurelvale suicides were 15-year-old boys, two of whom hung themselves from the same lamp post.

Last week Manhunt2, a nasty video game created by the makers of the Grand Theft Auto, was banned by the British film censors - but don't think that will make one iota of difference to the amount of time young men will spend locked into these violent bits of escapism. In Manhunt2 the main character escapes from an asylum and embarks on a violent round of killings. Another game featuring footage of the murdered child James Bulger was withdrawn from sale last week. The online game where participants enter another world as characters, Second Life, now has seven million players around the world, and scientists such as Baroness Greenfield are warning that too much role-playing on the internet can lead to an inability to form real relationships. That's an understatement if ever I heard one!

YouTube has announced plans to reach every mobile phone via a rapid expansion plan around the world, but all this "communication" doesn't give you real friendships; it gives you one-dimensional ones that you control and edit to suit yourself. The appalling rise in teenage suicides is a real cause for concern and proves to me that ultimately the internet is running out of control, maiming our young people by stunting their ability to integrate into society and live in the real world.

Oh Damon, give us a break

Don't you loathe the way that celebrities feel they have to have more say than anyone else about the way the country is governed? They can't just act, make records, give concerts or cook - they've got to preach and lecture politicians about the need for clean water in the Third World, to end poverty, to reform trade agreements. Bono and Bob G must spend all their waking hours on the phone to Bush, Brown and Blair, whingeing on about their pet causes.

Fact - all the fuss made by pop stars at the time of the G8 at Gleneagles has not ended poverty. In fact it made very little difference. Now, a group called the Power Inquiry is campaigning to restore the public's faith in the democratic process in the UK. They propose setting up a People's Assembly where changes to our electoral system can be discussed. They want to lower the voting age to 16 and impose a £10,000 limit on political donations. All perfectly sensible ideas - and they've come up with a petition on their "make it an issue" website we can all sign, calling on Mr Brown to reform the constitution and voting system.

Trouble is, their famous supporters include DJ Emma B, musician Damon Albarn, Nicaraguan activist Bianca Jagger and actor and television presenter Tony Robinson - all of whom will carry about as much political clout with our future Prime Minister as a wet tea towel. You can bet your life the People's Assembly will have a VIP area, accessible only by laminated pass. Like all celebrity do-gooders, they want equal rights for all, as long as they have a special lounge.

Petitions promoted through "famous" signatories are a real turn-off.

Sorry Laura, Learjets don't come in green

Laura Bailey is a glamorous mother, model, face of Marks & Sparks, and is supporting ibuy.co.uk, a carbon-offsetting car insurance scheme. She's terminally trendy, the partner of Working Title film mogul Eric Fellner, constantly photographed in eclectic but beautifully put-together outfits and lives in trendy Notting Hill Gate. Her previous boyfriends include Richard Gere, and of course she meditates and does yoga. Laura is nothing if not eco-conscious, and tells a Guardian journalist that she cycles everywhere and is a keen gardener, even though she cannot cook. Trouble is, Laura, pictured left, was not exactly on message when asked: "What is your biggest green guilty secret?" She answered: "Very occasionally accepting a lift on a private jet."

In one sentence she sums up why I find it incredibly difficult to believe that millionaires who live in Notting Hill, a stone's throw from David Cameron, have any idea of what saving the planet really means. To Laura, it just means forcing yourself not to get on that Learjet every now and then. Life's tough at the top!

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