Nikki Catsouras, 18, died in a horrifying car crash in 2006. Days afterward, her father received an email with a picture of the bloody accident scene and the caption, "Woohoo! Hey daddy, I'm still alive."
Writes Jessica Bennett for Newsweek, "From the beginning, Nikki's death had all the makings of a sensational story. She was gorgeous; it was Halloween, and she was driving a $90,000 sports car." But why did the nine photographs leaked from the scene of her accident become a sick, twisted internet phenomenon? [Warning: The pictures, should you search for them, are VERY graphic, and the family wishes you would not see them.]
California Highway Patrol apologized for the leaked pictures; two CHP dispatchers were to blame. One man's attorney said that he sent the images to relatives and friends "as a cautionary tale" to warn them of the dangers of the road. "Any young person that sees these photos and is goaded into driving more cautiously or less recklessly-that's a public service."
Whether or not the pictures did any "public service" is debatable; what did happen was that they popped up on websites specializing in morbid stuff. A fake MySpace page was set up in Nikki's name, where she was called a "stupid bitch." Commenters wrote things like, "That spoiled rich girl deserved it," and "What a waste of a Porsche."
Nikki's family sued the CHP for negligence, privacy invasion and infliction of emotional harm, but a judge dismissed the case. The Catsourases are appealling. Jessica Bennett notes: "But while libel and slander are regulated by law in the real world, in the cyberworld almost anything goes… Legally, anyone can post bloody images of Nikki Catsouras." The real question is: Why do people want to? Rubber-necking at a traffic accident when you're actually on the road is one thing, but setting up a fake MySpace for a dead girl is another. What possesses a person to email a father bloody pictures of his daughter? And do you think it should be illegal?
A Tragedy That Won't Fade Away [Newsweek]