US states with more Google searches for suicide-related things actually have a higher suicide rate, according to a study just out.
Researchers Gunn and Lester write that, across the 50 US states,
The association between suicide rates and the search volume for ‘‘commit suicide’’ was significant and positive[r=0.31, p=0.01]... ‘‘how to suicide’’ was marginally significant and positive [r=0.21, p=0.07]... Finally, ‘‘suicide prevention’’ was significant and positive [r=0.61, p=0.001].
This seems pretty convincing although it's hard to know whether this represents suicidal people making the searches, as opposed to people searching in response to local suicides that already happened.
The fact that "suicide prevention" was the closest correlated with suicides while "how to suicide" was weakest makes the latter seem more plausible to me.
Previous suicide-search research has given mixed findings:
Sueki (2011) looked at variations in the volume of Google searches about suicide and depression in Japan by month from 2004–2012 and found that the monthly search volume for‘‘suicide’’and‘‘suicide method’’was not significantly correlated with the monthly suicide rate. However, searches for‘‘depression’’ were positively associated with the monthly suicide rate especially with a time lag of 1–3 months.
Over the past couple of years there's been a flurry of studies based on analyzing Google and Twitter trends. What's interesting to me is that we're really in the early days of this, when you think about likely future technologies. What will happen when everyone's wearing a computer 24/7 that records their every word and move, and even what they see?
Eventually, psychology and sociology might evolve (or degenerate) into no more than the analysis of such data...
Gunn III, J., & Lester, D. (2012). Using google searches on the internet to monitor suicidal behavior Journal of Affective Disorders DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2012.11.004