Police Look for Culpability in Web Suicide Case

Police are investigating the suicide of a teenager on Justin.TV, specifically looking into any possible culpability for those watching --- and goading him on.

Abraham K. Biggs killed himself on camera last Wednesday night. Some watched in disbelief, and some watched and egged him on, saying "Do it, do it" in forum postings.

One response to Biggs' posting his suicide note was particularly harsh:
"You want to kill yourself? Do it, do the world a favor and stop wasting our time with your mindless self-pity."
While the question of iw whether or not goading someone on can be prosecuted, I always think back to the TV show Law & Order ... though a TV show, their use of the "depraved indifference murder" charge, while quite possible, is probably overused. And, a quick search of "depraved indifference murder" turns up a number that were overturned. As heinous as the reactions of people to Biggs' suicide note and video might be, it's not murder, but it might be something else.

As A. Randall Haas, a criminal lawyer in Ft. Lauderdale, FL told C|Net:
"It all comes down to how much is contributed to the victim being able to do the act. If you tell me you're depressed and want to kill yourself and I hand you a gun, I could be found criminally liable. If someone is on the edge and you help give him a push then you may have to answer for that. What has to be decided is whether communicating with someone over the Internet rises to the level necessary for someone to be considered culpable."
And while Florida criminal statute 782.07 says: "The killing of a human being by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence of another ... is manslaughter," this is pretty much the same as any sort of crime "committed" over the Web: I'm in New York, or even Russia: how do you prosecute me under Florida law, and is that even possible?

And is this another case of how numbed some may be in our current technological society. Jeffrey Cole, a professor who studies technology’s effects on society at USC told the New York Times that:
Online communities “are like the crowd outside the building with the guy on the ledge. Sometimes there is someone who gets involved and tries to talk him down. Often the crowd chants, ‘Jump, jump.’ They can enable suicide or help prevent it. The anonymous nature of these communities only emboldens the meanness or callousness of the people on these sites. Rarely does it bring out greater compassion or consideration.”
Via:  Various
3vi1 6 years ago

Mother: "Jimmy! Why did you write on the wall?"

Jimmy: "Because Fred told me to."

Mother: "And if Fred told you to jump off a cliff, would you?"

Jimmy: "Yes."

Mother: (dials) "Police! I'd like to report a future-possible-depraved-indifference-murder, rather than spend some time raising my child right."


If anyone should be prosecuted, how about his parents? Obviously, they either said or did not say a lot of things to him. You can't convince me that a few anonymous internet strangers held more sway over him with such a permanent decision.

Uh oh, Thinkpol is at the door.

bob_on_the_cob 6 years ago

What's really sad is that he layed there for hours and noone cared, over the internet or at home.

3vi1 6 years ago

I don't dispute that it's sad.

But, I don't think the court has any way of knowing whether or not the people who "egged it on" had any idea as to whether the teen was serious or just putting on for attention.

If one of my highschool friends had said "I'm going to jump off this bridge.", there's a 99% chance I would have said "DO IT." simply because I didn't believe they would and wanted them to quit talking nonsense.

Dev 6 years ago

Everyone here will argue for free speech and how its such a great right but too quickly people forget about their responsibilities that come with rights. Sometimes people don't exercise their right to be silent. In this case the people had a right to say what they wanted but demonstrated very poor judgement in what they said. It may seem like a far fetched boy who cried wolf but it happened. I wouldn't like to see this pursued legally, no one would. The people know who they are and I hope they loose a little sleep over this. I won't lie, I'm not acting all emotive and caring. I don't know the guy, possibly never would have. Therein lies the problem. Consequences won't return to me so why should I care? This event is the epitomy of everything wrong and right with the internet. Anonymity. He wasn't an ip address, it was a person who needed help and in his warped perspective turned to the net for help.

Truth is they didn't know and therefore if you don't know you mustn't speak. I hear a quote the other day that comes to mind.

"Of which we cannot speak we must remain silent"

-Wittgenstein,Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

i.e. if you don't know what your saying, STFU.


3vi1 6 years ago

If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.  ~Noam Chomsky

BebeX 6 years ago

 Well put Dev. It's ridiculous that the case is being persued like this- it's awful what happened and it's awful what those people said, but to them this may have looked like yet another internet hoax. Having said that, they mey well have believed him and simply wanted to satisfy their own cathartic 'bloodlust' by egging him on. If you invite the audience of the young and irresponsible on the internet, you're inviting that kind of negative feedback. You only have to read a few posts under a youtube video to see the kind of negative things these kids will say about anything, just because of the safety of anonymity. I think you have to look at the internet as a crowd of people- as such they will behave with a crowd mentality and we all know that morality and responsibility break down really quickly in those situations. People can be very cruel when they have that shield of anonymity or noone to answer to- it's human nature. we can thank William Golding for capturing that most sinister of human attributes in Lord of the Flies.

My thoughts go out to the poor kid who felt he had nowhere else to turn. I'll have none of this 'people who cry suicide are seeking attention so let's lay in to them' BS- if someone feels like they have to consider suicide then they are sick and need help. They don't need people shouting 'jump' or 'do it'- and whether or not it's about the cry for help or the attention, people need to recognise that this is unhealthy behaviour and they need to be offering their help and support, not pandering to their own self-asserted righteousness. It makes me sick how people can turn their back on another person in need.

Dev 6 years ago

Good to see you back Bebex, I think the Lord of the Flies reference is a good example. I read on the BBC site today that 3-4% of the male entire population are sociopaths (while sociopaths only accound for 1% of the female demographic) - callous, cold and have little regard for anyone but themselves.

They blend in seemlessly with the rest of society and thus are incredibly hard to spot and normally only emerge when they are caught. Extreme cases recently include the Baby P aggressors and the guy from Sheffield but like you said when people are given anonymity they show their true colours.

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