Death Becomes Them 

Led by Mike Patterson, the MySpace phenomenon lives on, even after its members die.

The online social networking site MySpace.com has a companion, albeit an unnofficial one. It's MyDeathSpace.com, and since it began in January, the Web site has posted more than 483 links to personal profiles of MySpace users who have died.

The deceased are mostly teens and young adults. Some have died in car accidents; others have been murdered — like Taylor Behl, the Virginia Commonwealth University freshman killed by Ben Fawley in September 2005. Behl is No. 6 on the Web site's "directory of dead MySpace members."

There's a separate numbering system for suicides, which at press time totals 61.

MyDeathSpace.com has become a recent target of cultural criticism by skeptics who say the site is at best macabre, and at worst exploitative and dangerous. On it, viewers are encouraged to offer feedback (most say they want to see at least five new deaths posted a day), join in forums and buy MyDeathSpace buttons, magnets and wristbands featuring the site's logo, a cartoon skull.

Via e-mail, Style caught up with the site's creator, Mike Patterson, a 25-year-old San Franciscan, to ask him about the rise in social networking online and whether a Web site devoted to death elicits more catharsis or indignation.

Style: What prompted you to start MyDeathSpace?

Patterson: I read about a murder/suicide. [In September 2005, a San Mateo man bludgeoned his wife, strangled his two teenage daughters, put their bodies into a freezer and then killed himself.] After that, I started searching MySpace for names of dead teens when I'd come across them in articles. I was interested to see just how many MySpace people were dying.

How do you profit from it?

The advertising doesn't bring in much money. There's no way I could quit my job and do this full time.

How long does it take for a deceased MySpace user to appear on your site?

There is no exact science when updating deaths on MyDeathSpace. If a recent death "stands out" or is submitted multiple times by ... visitors, that death is likely to be posted quickly. I am the only person updating the site with new deaths, so there is a huge backlog in my e-mail inbox. There are over 2,000 "submission" e-mails that need to be read, and that number grows daily.

Have you had inquiries from local authorities or schools about its content?

No. I still receive hate-mail, but nothing from local authorities or schools.

While it would be surprising to find a young person who didn't have a MySpace or Facebook profile, I'm wondering what phenomenon is at work here.

I think it all has to do with numbers. There are over 100 million MySpace users now. It seems like everyone in the "MySpace age range" has one, and they're on the site daily checking messages from friends, chatting, sharing pictures, or doing whatever else MySpace is offering.

I'm sure just as many teens were dying three or four years ago when MySpace wasn't around, but now that everyone is "connected," it's easier to look into the lives of those who have died. Before, someone could pick up a paper and read through the obituary column and only wonder what the life of a 17-year-old John Doe was like and what his interests were. Now that we're all connected — whether we like it or not — it's a lot easier to find out who someone is/was and the mark they left on this world. S

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