prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Suicide on the Small Screen

Posted by prof e on November 27, 2008

In recent days two events have focused our attention on the sometimes volatile combination of teen angst and social media websites. The first was the “broadcast” suicide of a 19-year-old man who took an overdose of prescription medications while a chat room of onlookers watched his live web cam stream. Some of the viewers urged Abraham Biggs on–either indifferent to his threats to take his life or willing to take the chance that he was bluffing. Perhaps it is not much different from sidewalk gawkers calling out to a would-be suicide victim to “jump” and “get it over with,” but it still suggests a calloused indifference and sense of alienation that comes from a failed sense of community.

The second event was the jury trial of the woman accused of cyber-bullying in the Megan Meier case. The internet hoax resulted in 13-year-old Megan taking her life after being dumped by a fictitious male character created by the 49-year-old defendant Lori Drew. While found not-guilty of violating the more severe Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Drew was found guilty of three minor offenses including the violation of MySpace’s terms-of-service agreement which prohibits the use of phony names and the harassment of other users. Still, Drew could face up to three years in prison for the conviction. The trial highlighted the fact that we currently have few law-enforcement tools designed to address these new forms of computer crimes, and we’re likely to see new cyber-bulling legislation enacted in response.

These sad episodes of teen suicide raise serious questions about the porous nature of the LCD screen that separates our online and off-line lives. Megan’s response to a make-believe “boyfriend” and forum members’ collective failure to respond to Abraham’s calls for help have this in common–both speak volumes about how we relate to others in virtual space and how those virtual relationships have life-changing, real-world consequences.

22 Responses to “Suicide on the Small Screen”

  1. Vincent House said

    I feel that in today’s world, the content you can find on the internet has grown, from perverse material to death as in this case. for the people to egg him on to take the pills, i feel we live in a sick world were for entertainment we want to watch someone die. but on the other hand this is not a new issue if we go back in history, such as in the Roman era, gladiator and warriors would fight to the death.

  2. Nader Omar - - MCM 101 said

    …So let me get this straight. Because someone tells someone to do something within a different means of contact it suddenly becomes a “debate” whether or not what they did was taboo? Of course they are. I mean I can understand some differences. I mean with the Abraham thing. I can understand that the users may not have been 100% sure if Abraham really had prescription drugs, but that doesn’t mean you should encourage him. And as for that lady…wow just wow.

    While I admit that there may be some differences all in all encouraging suicide is still encouraging suicide and manipulating ones life is still manipulating.

  3. David Laird MCCNM 101 said

    It is true that in today’s world people have become used to crime and threats of suicide and even the reality of suicide. Most people that I know have known someone whose committed suicide or who committed a crime. It is sad that in today’s society people no longer care if a life is taken, people don’t care about strangers anymore. This is a big deal when going into a mass communication field because one slip up letting the public see that for example a PR person doesn’t care that someone is dead could ruin there career. It is also relevant to a broadcaster. If a broadcaster is seen as one of those gawkers telling the person to get it over with and jump there career would be over because the general public doesn’t want to admit to themselves that they are wrong for doing the same thing.


  4. Cody Freel said

    I believe that just because the internet is around and children can access it just as easily as we can, does not mean it is time for parents to stop partenting. Why did no one know about a 13 year old GIRL talking to a “49” year old boyfriend? How did the internet conversations go unnoticed?? It is not the government’s job to keep a watchful eye on every 13 year old girl that decideds to hop on the interenet and chat, but it is the parents responibility to be involved and informed in their child’s life.

  5. Nate said

    Parents should pay more attention to what their kids are doing on the internet. Where were the parents of the 13 year old at the time she was online talking to the 49 year old? That is sad that the on lookers were urging him to take the pills. I’m just saying the parents should pay more attention to their kids at all times.

  6. Lindsay Wolking said

    The general public needs to become alive. Don’t depend on a cyber boyfriend to love for you and care for you, and find out that your boyfiend was really 49 years old.
    Hello! why did you watch this man commit suicide-well I do believe that is called guilty by association or knowing of the outcome. You watched hime die!
    I’ve have personally watched two people die my grandmother and father inlw. It is an awfulthing. My point-People wake up and pay attention!!

  7. Jeremy Romero said

    It is true that there needs to be some kind of way to increase the level of disciplinary action when it comes to internet crime. This issue is growing rapidly. And for the people who were encouraging that guy who killed himself and displayed it on a webcam, there is something seriously wrong with those people. Why would you encourage somebody to kill themselves?

  8. Marcus Hunter said

    First off its sad to say, but I’m not surprised by either of these actions. There are alot of sick people out there whose cries go unheard. With that said, I think that the girl who commited suicide because her online “boyfriend” dumped her is ridiculous. Also I think it’s obvious that the 19 year old boy was begging for attention that he wasn’t getting. So whats the best way to get his point across while getting the maximum amount of attention he wanted? Commit suicide live on a webcam where he had a possible audience of millions upon millions of people.

  9. Mitchell Trujillo said

    Seeing these sort of events is very sad indeed. I feel as though since there is such anonymity on the web the people will succumb to lesser urges that may include telling someone to kill themselves or to solve children problems with threats posing as another child. It seems that there should be more punishment to the woman who pretended to be someone she wasn’t resulting in a suicide. It is really next to impossible to regulate what everyone says to one another just like in the real world, although i feel that the consequences should be the same if you cross that line of wrong.

  10. Joseph Foley said

    My first thought while reading this story was amazement. It’s amazing to me how much power the internet has, especially on peoples lives. I don’t feel as if I could be very physically attached to someone I meet on the internet just because there is nothing physical there and it would be hard for me to develop emotions around that. And regarding the kid who committed suicide, I agree with a poster who said it was a cry for attention. I feel like the victim wanted attention from the people who was posting it to, and when they didn’t believe him or give their sympathy he just exploded.

  11. Adrianna Fernandez said

    It is sad to hear about stories like this but the fact is that this is the world we are coming to! Media plays a major role in the way we live and the internet is just one that is able to influence people so easily! There is always good and bad with anything and the internet is just another example of that. We cannot censor everything and need to remember that the internet has many dangers too, it can show us joy and happiness and life and death so easily!!

  12. JDraper said

    I agree that in today’s society, people have become much more impartial to the idea of death. I think it is a terrible thing that these people encouraged this man to take his own life. It is sick and disturbing. But look at what society is doing to encourage this as well. Most of the popular video games these days are focuse around how many people you can kill, or how many crimes you can commit without getting caught. What message is the media sending other than the idea that this sort of behavior will get you ahead in life. People are disturbed and cruel, and with the addition of media that numbs them to death and crime, they are bound to create bad situations.

  13. Molly Cotner said

    I read the New York Times article about the Megan Meier case and I could not believe what I read. I can not believe that we, as a civilized society, would be so sanitized to another persons life. My question is when these people were watching this young man who was threatening to commit suicide, why did no one call the police or 911? I believe we all need to take a step back for a minute and think if that was one of our loved ones, how would we want someone to act in these situations? Also, in the case of Megan Meier, I believe that Lori Drew got off so easy. I believe that she should have been charged with some sort of crime related to that little girls death.

    Molly Cotner

  14. Vince Caligaris MCCNM 101 said

    I agree I think that this was absolutely crazy. I dotn understand how some people can be so sick and just sit there and watch this poor kid OD and not even think to do anything about it. I dont understand though how some people can get themselves so worked up over things that are on the internet such as the case of the 13 year old girl but I do believe that since she was so young that yes this could hurt her. I also think that this women got off way to easy and more harsh action should be taken.

  15. Jesse Rodriguez said

    The internet has become so fake in so many ways throughout the years, and you can’t go on the internet without having to pay for something just to see a website or 49 year old people making fake profiles on Myspace to probably fulfill something in their past. Like not having a boyfriend or girlfriend at all. Also someone that kills himself on the internet probably did it so he could end up on the news to show himself in the media.

    Mass Comm
    11:00 a.m.

  16. John Young said

    As we become more advanced with digital communication It seams we become less advanced as humans. The distance the internet creates makes something like someone killing themselves in front of you seem so far away even-though you could be only a few button pushers away from stopping them. We truly are coming into a time of humans directly interfacing with machines.

  17. Trevor M. Sok said

    I agree that parents should keep a better eye on their child’s online activity. The internet can be a portal to every piece of trash the world has to offer. The issue regarding the man of age 19 is indeed saddening, but the fact that people just stood by and watched as this happened is appalling. That should have been reported to someone of some authority at the exact moment suicide was mentioned during the broadcasting.

  18. Bryon said

    Give me a break!! This is the same story as it was in the late 70’s early 80’s. When parents were putting the blame on a game called dungons and dragons because kids were offing themselves.Maybe they should look in the mirror for the blame. When my son is online I know where he is going online and if I find he is going where he shouldn’t I block it.

  19. Audrey said

    people are fascinated by the thought of death and suicide. Its popular in shows, books, movies, music, etc. Its sick but its the world we live in. I feel that we should have better laws for the internet. Megan killing herself was horrible and even though she was 13 and got easily carried away that woman that did it was in her forties and had a daughter megans age. that woman knew exactly what to say to megan and it was disgusting. I wish she could be put away for life

  20. Victoria Watson said

    It is so tragic to see that some people have nothing better to do than to cause these types of crimes against people. I rarely speak on impulse, nor do i give irrational opinions regarding anything, but in this case, I am absolutely mortified that this 41 year old woman went to the extent as to create a fictitious person to torment this girl, all in the name of entertainment or whatever she may have gotten from it. This is a 41-year old woman, the age of my mother- and its sickening to think that someone had the time and patience to go through and create this entire situation which resulted in her jail time and the death of a young girl. It makes you think what the hell is going on in the world and why people commit these crimes against one another. My personal opinion aside, people and societies have always been fascinated with death, especially the ethics involved in suicide. I understand that the person that commits suicide must already have it in them to do so because a lot of people think of suicide, often, but the difference is there are those that act on it and those that think of it- and that takes it to another level. This woman knew what she was doing and I think that she should be given a maximum penalty for her actions.

  21. spiffysam said

    It is sad that parents have such little involvement in the lives of their children. It was wrong for that old woman to portray a teenage male, and cause the girl to kill herself, but her parents should have noticed her behavior. They should have noticed the amounts of time she was spending online, asked who she was talking to, and kept tabs on the way she acted when not at the computer. They should have been involved in the “relationship” that she was having with this “boy”, and spoke openly with her about her feelings. Perhaps if she were more open with her parents she would have gone to them when he broke up with her, ultimately saving her life. So many things are not the issue of media, but the issue of poor parenting.

  22. Deann Pantoya said

    I believe that parents need to be more involve and monitor their children better when they are on the internet. When it comes to parenting and surfing around on the internet parents need to become more involved with their child. It was completely wrong for the 49-year-old defendant Lori Drew to create a male character and then have him cyber-bully 13 year old Megan Meier. This horrible cyber-bullying later then led the girl into killing herself.

    It’s also horrible to hear about how people were just sitting there and watching a young 19-year-old man overdose on medication and do nothing about it. Instead they sat there and were sort of cheering him on.

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