Web suicide spurs concerns over online communities

(Credit: Urbanite)

By Emily Ngo

The very public Internet suicide of 19-year-old Abraham Biggs has renewed debate over the growing dependency on virtual communities and whether regulations are needed to monitor Web content.

“It’s very, very sad that he felt the only people he could talk to were people who were strangers to him,” said Elayne Rapping, a pop culture analyst at SUNY Buffalo. She argued yesterday that some troubled teens are blurring the distinction between the real world and an Internet world.

“Young people assume that they have real communities online, but it’s hundreds of friends they’ve never met,” Rapping said. “There’s something very alienating about that.”

Many feared the Miami teenager’s fatal drug overdose would generate “copycats.”

“If you look at some of the school shootings, there’s usually some type of chatter online,” said Manhattan-based psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert. “People are using the Internet as a way to spread the message and orchestrating.”Meanwhile, attorneys said a negligence lawsuit is unlikely without proof that administrators at Justin.tv, where Biggs posted a link from bodybuilding.com and sent broadcasts of himself in the hours before his fatal drug overdose Wednesday, knew what was happening and had the means to intervene.

The possibility of censorship, however, seemed daunting with millions of live-streaming videos being uploaded nationwide, experts agreed.

“It’s not like someone who goes on the Internet and commits suicide is worried about being prosecuted,” pointed out Syracuse University pop culture professor Robert Thompson.

Bloggers yesterday rallied against Internet regulation while giving their condolences to Biggs’ family.

“Internet has absolutely everything that the real world has — both the good and the bad aspects,” wrote Svetlana Gladkova, on profy.com, “but hoping that disabling the tools that make some of the events possible will prevent them from happening will hardly help anyone.”

“May his Father and Family have the peace they need in this devastating time,” said Peter Carlock, on opntalk.blogspot.com. “However, having said all that, the Fathers anger is misplaced. His call for censorship is false. There is NO ONE to blame but his Son. Period.”

Thompson emphasized there have, in the past, been suicidal people egged on by onlookers: “The only difference here is that it was done on the Internet and not on a ledge.”

Tags: viral video

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