Sunday, November 23, 2008

Internet Suicide

The headline reads:

"Father appalled by virtual audience to son's death"

This news report of Abraham Biggs, a young man who committed suicide on a live webcam is nothing short of disturbing on multiple levels. Several news articles start out by claiming the "entire world is in shock" about this. Frankly, I think that's a stretch, considering how many people have been reported to have a.) intentionally watched it and b.) cracked jokes about it as it was happening. No, the "entire" world isn't it shock, there are many who just couldn't care less.

When I first read about it I wasn't going to make any kind of comment, but the more I read about it, the more bothered I've become. I do have some random thoughts, in no particular order:

The young man's father has said that he was not aware of his son's online presence. I have seen this kind of comment over and over and OVER from parents who's kids have got themselves into serious trouble, online. "How is it possible to not know what your kids are doing online?" many will ask. It's very possible. Kids may be reckless but they're also sneaky when they're doing something they know the shouldn't be doing. Most of them know very well how to cover their tracks electronically from their parents (they learn it online, by others who are doing it successfully), and how to conceal their online usage. Now this is not to say that all teenagers and/or young people online are sneaking around doing bad things, but the ones who are, know how to hide it pretty well from their parents. It's a goldmine of deceitfully useful information for those who are drawn into the unseemly side of internet use. Even otherwise "good" kids dabble with this garbage, and yours may even be one of those kids - and you'd likely never know it. There are ways to prevent it via downloading and installing certain types of blocking/filtering software. I can't recommend enough, that parents use these electronic safety nets, if your kids are online. When they can demonstrate that they are mature enough and responsible enough to NOT have these safety measures in place, then and only then, should you consider removing them. Something to keep in mind however, is that even many adults have this kind of software installed because they know that even they are far too easily tempted to fool around on the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak, online. Whether you use these safety measures or whether you ever remove them, is well worth considering.

According to some of the news reports, many of the viewers (think about that for a minute, people watched, on purpose, by choice) have allegedly commented that they didn't think it was real. Some have said they thought the young man was faking it all, due to past threats he'd allegedly made. Does this surprise anyone? We've raised up an entire generation of people in a culture of death and violence, who are literally fascinated with death and violence... so when they see real death, it doesn't even look real to them. The lines are so blurred and there is such insenstivity to the value and worth of human life, that a threat of suicide becomes something to ignore, and live webcasted suicide doesn't really phase as many people as it seems it should.

What may be even worse than that, is the idea that some of the viewers did know or suspect it was real, and enjoyed it. I know that none of us really want to entertain that thought at all, but this is the reality of the world we live in. Our society truly has decayed right back to the days of the Roman coliseum "games" where people watched and cheered as other people were slaughtered before their eyes. Instead of a local audience in that day, there is now a global audience of all ages, with a much further reaching influence. One report says there were an estimated 1,500 people viewing, in this particular case.

While this phenomena may be too relatively "new" in our day to have any hard data on just how frequently this sort of thing happens, one article reported on a suicide prevention agency that states since 2001, there have been 17 suicides in Britain directly related to internet chat rooms or sites that give information on how to do it. Just last year, a PalTalk user used a live webcam to broadcast his solution to online mockery and insults, and to at least one chatter that reportedly told him to "get on with it" and do it. I would like to believe this sort of thing is rare and will not increase, but I think that would be desperately ignorant to even suggest, considering the fascination so many younger people have with allowing a wide audience direct access to their private lives.

While I'm certainly not one to say "the internet is evil!" as some do, the reality of it is that there is a tremendous amount of wickedness, darkness and detachment and desperation in the hearts of many internet users, and they will gladly broadcast it for all to see and hear. For some it's nothing more than a self-centered desire to have an audience to spread their filth. For others, it's a genuine cry for help and a desperate plea for someone, anyone, to understand them and really hear what they're trying to say.

Parents, get as 'net-smart as your kids are, and make sure you know what your kids are doing, and saying online. It just may save their lives. My heart goes out to Abraham's parents and family. It's hard enough to lose a loved one, but the circumstances of this case only serve to make it so much more painful.

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