LONDON (Reuters) - A British MP accused popular networking Web sites of "romanticizing death" on Wednesday after the suicides of seven young people in the last year around a small town in South Wales.
While police have denied media reports of an Internet suicide cult, they are checking email, online discussions and text messages exchanged by teenagers around Bridgend.
Reports said that several of the young victims had hanged themselves after spending hours chatting with friends on the Internet.
The town's Labour MP Madeleine Moon said she had serious concerns about the effect of teenagers spending too long on the Internet and about memorial sites where people leave messages and pictures for dead friends.
"What we don't know is whether the Internet is playing a key factor in this," she told Reuters. "What is concerning is that you're getting Internet bereavement walls. That's not going to help anyone."
She urged young people affected by the deaths to seek help from counselors or their families rather than visiting memorial Web sites that have "some sort of romanticism of death".
"What people need is not to go into a virtual world of the Internet to deal with emotional problems," she said. "They need to stay very much in this real world and talk to real people."
"Large numbers of families in my constituency are now facing a life without their sons and daughters and that's horrendous."
She spoke out after the death of a 17-year-old girl, named in media reports as Natasha Randall, found dead at home in the village of Blaengarw, north of Bridgend, last Thursday.
Friends left dozens of messages on Randall's personal page on the Bebo social networking site (www.bebo.com) and on a memorial site here
Visitors can light a candle, leave a tribute or post a photograph. One message, from Lee, says: "An angel on earth and now an angel in heaven, but why go so soon?"
Melanie Davies, mother of Thomas Davies, 20, who was found hanged last February, said she feared friends were copying each other by committing suicide.
"It's like a craze, a stupid sort of fad," she was quoted as saying by the Western Mail newspaper. "The problem is they can speak to each other on the computer but do not know how to express their emotions in other ways."
A South Wales Police spokeswoman said there was no direct link between the seven suicides. However, officers are checking emails and messages sent by friends in the area.
"One line of enquiry within the investigation is the examination of the computer of the 17-year-old girl," Superintendent Tim Jones said in a statement. "There is a growing trend for young people to communicate through telephone text messaging and also over the Internet. This is all part of conducting a thorough investigation."
Police have found no connection with the 17-year-old's death and a girl of 15 who tried to harm herself the following day.
(Editing by Steve Addison)