hal tweets ·11:28 AM

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We're On Our Own: Who To Blame for Online Suicide? :comments

Posted by Hal
Tags: production, Video sharing, Voyeurism

While a judge considers dropping the charges against Lori Drew police will no doubt be looking to lay new charges in a separate case, the suicide of a 19 year old teenager live online. Another tragic incident, another case of people using the Internet to amuse themselves at the expense of someone else who ultimately takes his or her own life.

The particulars in this case basically involve a young man swallowing all kinds of medication until he lapses into a coma. 185 people watch online via streaming service Justin.tv, attracted to his life feed via a posting he leaves on a body building forum. (Incidentally, I have a very interesting interview with Justin in the Peep Diaries done right after he stopped being the main attraction on the site and opened it up to other people who wanted to “lifestream.”) Eventually the police are called. Even as they break down the door and cover the webcam, the peanut gallery online is chatting and arguing whether or not the whole thing is staged. Here are some quotes:

Quote: if you put full screen on you can tell its not a still pic but why isnt his top moving as he breathes
Quote: um guise. . he looks like hes not breathing
Quote: desperate cry for attention….log off his stupid jtv site…. you’re just making this retard act out worse than he would otherwise.

So who to blame this time? Basically this is the dark side of our emerging Peep Culture. If we’re going to make the unmediated watching of other people a big part of our entertainment culture, then we’re going to have things like this happen fairly regularly. Even after the poor guy is gone, he will continue to provide “entertainment value” online. Consider this forum which discusses his death, provides his online suicide note, and links to the video (which has now been removed officially but I’d be surprised if you couldn’t find it pretty quickly).

So are people doing things they wouldn’t otherwise do because they know they are being watched? There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that people are, increasingly, acting in extreme or violent ways in order to create YouTube clips. So there’s reason to suggest that someone might be more inclined to commit suicide because of the potential for their act to become spectacle. In which case, we wonder: What is the responsibility of those watching? There are so many faked videos out there that it’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference between real or acted. It’s pretty much impossible to put the onus on the watcher, who is always passive, always anonymous, always somewhere else. And I don’t think anybody wants the authorities to come in and start regulating the Internet the way they do television, assigning ratings and basically turning live TV into an utterly bland experience.

So it comes back to the core reality that Peep Culture reinforces: Even in the age of so-called interactive digital culture, even in the age of online community, we’re on our own. We have more freedom than any human beings have ever had before, but with that freedom comes more confusion, more desperation, more watching of others to see what they’re doing.

click to pop up full size
The scene on Justin.TV as the police arrive too late to save a young man broadcasting his suicide online.

 

Comments: -2-, Add yours…

Ack. Read about this on the weekend Hal. It’s incredibly disturbing…and the names of the folks watching? 

Yes, “Even in the age of so-called interactive digital culture, even in the age of online community, we’re on our own,” only of course, anyone could be watching…and even creepier, charging a fee.

By LH on 2008 11 24

Hal, the time has arrived for people to develop real community. Go to the coffee house, get a beer, go to a show, see an opera. Life lived only online is a life lived in shadow.

By Michael W on 2008 11 24

 

  

The Bloggist

Hey, I’m Hal Niedzviecki. I’m a writer/thinker who lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada with my wife and daughter. Up till now I’ve always considered myself a private person. But at the same time I’m fascinated by people who effortlessly open themselves up to the whole world. So I’ve… more...

 

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