The story of Abraham Biggs and his online suicide continues to make waves in the press and online. Yesterday, Biggs’ death was confirmed to be suicide and many on the Internet are wondering if they had a hand in the death of this young man:
Biggs’ father, Abraham Biggs Sr., said those who watched, and the website operators, share some blame in his son’s death. “I think they are all equally wrong,” he said. “As a human being, you don’t watch someone in trouble and sit back and just watch.”
Some viewers contacted the website to notify police, but the police did not arrive in time.
Whitworth said the anonymity of the Internet may cause some users to behave in ways they wouldn’t in person.
“Those individuals who were egging Mr. Biggs on in essence were able to depersonalize,” he said. “They would not do it face to face, but in the computer medium they were able to absolve themselves of any personal responsibility for their actions.”
They are “absolutely not” absolved, he said, but they also cannot be held accountable.
Anonymity does provide the opportunity to act in a way that would never occur face-to-face. We’ve all done things while driving that we would never do in person. I bet most people have sent emails that would never be discussed in public. So, are the online viewers partially responsible for Biggs’ death?
The video and blog postings have since been removed from the sites, but Crane, who has seen both, said that at first viewers thought the suicide was a hoax.
“The bloggers said that Biggs had threatened to kill himself before and had faked it, so at first they didn’t believe him,” said Crane. “Gradually, as you read the blog further into the day the bloggers start commenting on how Biggs isn’t moving.”
Crane said comments on the thread included an exchange about whether the image of Biggs’ motionless body was a still photograph or a video, and eventually resulted in one of the site’s visitors calling the police, who tracked down the teen through his computer IP address.
According to Wired magazine, online viewers watching the video ranged from “OMG” — Internet slang for oh my god — and LOL — an abbreviation for laughing out loud.
OK, many thought it was not real, but still… LOL and OMG? Why are we finding ourselves in a place where a young man can commit suicide while thousands look on and even encourage the act?
Montana Miller, an assistant professor of popular culture at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, said Biggs’ very public suicide was not shocking, given the way teenagers chronicle every facet of their lives on sites like Facebook and MySpace.
“If it’s not recorded or documented then it doesn’t even seem worthwhile,” she said. “For today’s generation it might seem, `What’s the point of doing it if everyone isn’t going to see it?'”
She likened Biggs’ death to other public ways of committing suicide, like jumping off a bridge.
The story of Abraham Biggs, in my perspective, is one of a troubled young man who wanted attention and fame. He tried various means to gather that attention ultimately reaching-out to the Internet in a way that could be recorded for history. Online, he engaged in a peer-group that ultimately did not kill him, but did not prevent his death either. The death of Biggs will leave a scar on many and reminds us all how fragile the human psyche can be.
For those of you who did not take him seriously and encouraged what you thought was a joke, you will have your own conscious to deal with. For the rest, especially the parents in the crowd, please talk to your kids and make sure they have options in the face-to-face world to help them deal with problems.