General Question

shadling21's avatar

Who's accountable?

Asked by shadling21 (6467 points ) November 27th, 2008

Internet users urged Kevin Whitrick and Abraham Biggs to commit suicide.

How on earth do we hold these people responsible for their actions? Is the Internet so different from reality that we’d tell people to kill themselves? How do we make sure this doesn’t happen again? Have people pretended to kill themselves online, and is this affecting how we deal with such serious issues?

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9 Answers

jasongarrett's avatar

This is another example of the Greater Internet F***wad Theory. I have no idea what to do about it in general; I use my real name to help prevent it in myself.

augustlan's avatar

I don’t think we can hold them responsible. If it had happened in ‘real life’ (though that was pretty damn real) I don’t think we could either, as long as the person was legally sane when they killed themselves.

That said, I find it so disheartening that people like this exist in the world (real or otherwise). It just breaks my fucking heart.

Snoopy's avatar

Another similar story involves the sinister woman who posed as a teenager on myspace, causing so much distress to another teen that this girl commited suicide.
The woman (a mother, no less) recently escaped felony charges and was convicted of misdemeanors. See link

MacBean's avatar

Is the Internet so different from reality that we’d tell people to kill themselves?

No. I’ve witnessed people shouting at jumpers to go ahead and do it in real life. So I guess it’s really not that different. Though the internet allows for some anonymity, so I would guess that MORE people would be assholes, since you’re not going to recognize them walking down the street.

dynamicduo's avatar

I don’t think there’s anything one can do to “fix” the Internet, because it’s not the internet that’s the problem. It’s stupid people who gets lulz out of trolling and bugging people. Sure, anonymity often leads to more hostile words exchanged, but even if we were linked with our names (which is not gonna happen quickly if at all) there would still be dicks going for the lulz.

Consider, in real life, one does not get arrested or charged for telling a person to kill themselves, unless it’s constant and thus harassment in which case the person could take steps to combat the bad one (restraining order). The issue with suicidal people is they are often not mentally strong or coherent enough to take logical actions, and may be affected by words much more than a regular person.

You can’t make sure it doesn’t happen again, simply due to the logistics of the Internet. You can’t pass a law for the Internet. I believe the only thing that can help in this situation is developing thick skin and learning to not take what’s said online seriously and to heart. Any attempts to punish those people who egged the suicider on will become a murky interpretation of laws (even now, the story Snoopy talks about, the woman is being charged with hacking cause it’s the closest law that exists…. this sets dangerous precedents in American courts regarding websites and conduct therein).

shadling21's avatar

@Mac- Really? That is disturbing.

@dynamic- “Thick skin” is exactly what we all need. But for those who don’t have it, who believe the things they read and trust that people are being honest online… Is education the key?

I wonder if these folks would have changed their mind if someone told them not to do it. I heard about a group of Spanish internet users who saved a German user from suicide.

If you’ve planned to kill yourself and broadcast it on the Internet, I doubt what others say about it will change your mind. It’s a final cry for attention, a kind of guilt trip for those who didn’t see it coming or did see it and didn’t care. But how do people not feel guilty, telling someone to kill his- or herself? Does no one feel that sense of responsibility to help other humans in need? Is this just a problem with society rather than the Internet?

Sorry, but this topic gets me riled up. When I was thirteen, I met a user online who had attempted suicide several times (or so he claimed) and stayed up several nights to prevent him from trying again. I’d decided that if I didn’t do all that I could for this user, then I couldn’t consider myself a good person. No one else was listening to him, so I did. If he killed himself, and I’d ignored him, I was in part responsible for his death. I had horrific visions of him killing himself on webcam. Is that illogical?

dynamicduo's avatar

Yes, education is the key. It pretty much is in many other cases as well. People should be taught to be more skeptical and not assume what they read is correct (or to trust the source of the content), because that’s pretty much the case in most of my experiences. Then again there’s only so much you can educate a person, or people may only want to be educated a certain amount. No amount of education can help a truly gullible person unless that person wants to change their behavior.

Your personal story is interesting, but I do not agree with your logic of taking responsibility for his possible death. You can’t be responsible for other people and their actions, or other people’s happiness. Well, you can, but you will end up living your life for other people instead of yourself. You can offer them help, you can listen to them, and you can offer them a shoulder to lean on, but what they ultimately choose to do is their own decision no matter how much you try to influence it.

I do think it’s illogical. Imagine being a psychiatrist, you have all sorts of people, troubled and not, telling you all sorts of things. If a troubled person who talks with this psychiatrist ends up killing themselves, it’s probably not because of what the psychiatrist said, it’s because that person was troubled to begin with.

shadling21's avatar

@dynamic – Hah! That little “probably” is convincing.

Well, I’m going to pin my own illogic onto the fact that I was still a noob with regards to online communities (and life in general). I wouldn’t take the same action again if I was faced with the same situation. But I can’t imagine myself egging someone on to commit suicide. That’s for sure.

You make a great point about not taking responsibility for the actions of other people. I mean, I thought it was the right thing to do at the time, but I see now that people need to forge their own happiness. They have to want to change to change.

Really, though. I was at one end of the spectrum. Telling someone to kill himself? How bored do you have to be to want someone to die? I guess it’s the same as the Romans at the Colosseum. Entertainment at any cost. Ick.

dynamicduo's avatar

Yeah, some people will get their jollies off at almost anything. I don’t get it either.

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