A 19-Year-Old Ends His Life In Front Of An Internet Audience

Illustration for article titled A 19-Year-Old Ends His Life In Front Of An Internet Audience

Anyone can be a star on the internet. You don't have to have a skill: you can dance poorly in your bedroom, fall off a coffee table, cry over a falling star, or get caught playing Jedi in a school studio, all alone. YouTube makes it possible for anyone to be visible to the rest of the world; with a webcam and a computer anyone can reach an audience of millions. There is a strange disconnect that happens between people sitting on the opposite sides of screens; this obsession with everyone getting to be a somebody has, in fact, turned everybody into a nobody, a nothing, a shadow of a thing, a visual illusion that can be stopped and started with a few clicks.19-year-old Abraham Biggs made a statement like all other internet video stars: Watch me, I'm going to do this. And people did. They watched him for twelve hours, as the camera recorded his declaration that he wanted to die and intended to commit suicide. They watched him, laughed, and discussed his fate as he overdosed on pills, slumped over on his bed, and drifted out of the world.Online interactions are broken down into small electronic boxes: a computer on a desk, a screen on a computer, a video playing in the center of that screen. We watch other human beings float in and out of these boxes, putting on the versions of themselves they deem most fit for public consumption. In the best circumstances, everyone, including the video star, gets at least a laugh out of it. But in the worst circumstances, the disconnect becomes so strong that we lose all sight of the small human being within the video screen. YouTube is filled with clips of teenage girls singing cover versions of popular songs, leaning into the camera to share their thoughts on a book, or a television show, or a band, creating these sad and quiet diaries for everyone to read as a means to garner attention and validation and, most likely, just to have an excuse to talk to somebody. There is a loneliness and a patheticism that comes with such a thing; for every person trying to be an internet star, there are five or six just trying to be noticed by somebody, anybody at all. Montana Miller, a professor of popular culture at Bowling Green University, sums it up as a generational desire to live in the most public way possible: "If it's not recorded or documented then it doesn't even seem worthwhile," Miller said. "For today's generation it might seem, `What's the point of doing it if everyone isn't going to see it?'" I suppose it isn't really shocking at this point that suicide, like everything else on earth, has become an internet event. But the fact that we are so far removed, as a society, from the basic elements of humanity at times, to sit in a chat room and watch a 19-year-old die over a period of 12 hours while some members actually encouraged him to go through with it and others discussed, as Wendy Crane, an investigator at the Broward County Medical Examiner's office claims, "whether he was taking a dose big enough to kill himself." Abraham had apparently threatened suicide before and had a history of mental illness; he overdosed on the medication prescribed to help him with his bipolar disorder. He announced that he was planning to kill himself on a bodybuilding website that he frequented, and posted a link to a webcam hosted by Justin.tv, who seemingly had no problem hosting the event. A moderator at the bodybuilding site was tipped off to the webcam link, and notified police, who were seen on camera bursting into Abraham's room, which set off a round of "OMFG" and "hahahahaha" responses in the chat room. Michael Seibel, Justin.tv's CEO, announced a statement regarding Abraham's death: "We regret that this has occurred and want to respect the privacy of the broadcaster and his family during this time." But Seibel isn't in the business of privacy; his company allowed this event to take place, his users seized the opportunity to watch a tragedy unfold, and nobody on the site bothered to care enough to do anything about it. As Abraham's sister, Rosalind Bigg, notes: "It didn't have to be. They got hits, they got viewers, nothing happened for hours." William Hill, a Miami lawyer, doesn't believe that the web site or the viewers will be held responsible: "There could conceivably be some liability if they knew this was happening and they had some ability to intervene and didn't take action," Hill says, but he thinks "it would be a stretch." YouTube's motto is "Broadcast Yourself." There won't be a halt in confessional videos, or stupid human tricks, or even internet tragedies such as this one; Abraham was not the first person to commit suicide by webcam, and sadly, he will most likely not be the last. But the question his death brings about is less about Abraham's intentions than our own: when will the age of the random stranger in the box disappear and make way for a more human interaction? When will we finally stop viewing the world around us through a removed lens and begin to realize that the "stars" on the other end of the screen are just human beings, wanting not only an audience who will watch, but perhaps an audience who will truly listen as well? Florida Teen Broadcasts Suicide On Internet[NYPost] Kin Distraught, Outraged Over Internet Suicide[MSNBC]



This opinion will probably go over like a lead balloon, but I thought we respected choice around here. He wanted to take his life, wasn't that his choice? How can we 'hold everyone watching responsible'?

Like it or not, there are assholes in this world who say things we don't agree with.