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“It boggles the mind.” The was the reaction from the sister of Abraham Biggs, 19. “We don’t understand,” she added.

Biggs posted his intent to take his own life on a bodybuilding internet forum message board. He included a link to the site where he was broadcasting via webcam to a live audience. His suicide was witnessed by internet viewers. And now his family, law enforcement officials, and internet users are asking how such a situation could occur — and why it wasn’t prevented from playing out to a tragic and irreversible conclusion.

Biggs had a history of depression and ingested a lethal overdose of medications prescribed to treat bipolar disorder. After he posted his plan on the messageboard, a site moderator was alerted to his writing by a forum visitor. The site owners alerted local authorities who were dispatched to his home where his lifeless body was discovered on his father’s bed.

Reports are surfacing that the webcam broadcast images of him lying on the bed for as long as 12 hours. It appears that viewers did not see him take the drugs that killed him, but he did leave a suicide note. “When (police) came in, the webfeed stopped. So that’s 12 hours of watching. They got hits, they got viewers, nothing happened for hours,” his sister said.

Even more disturbing are accounts of some viewers debating whether he had actually taken a lethal dose and urging him to take more prescription drugs. Allegedly, other viewers attempted to dissuade him, but apparently did not alert the owners of the site from which the webcast was being broadcast, ostensibly because they believed they were witnessing an internet hoax and Biggs had purportedly posted similar threats in the past.

“Technology blurs the lines between reality and that which is not real.” 

Biggs’ distraught father says that the website owner-operators and audience members all share responsibility for 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.” He believes that his son was crying out for help when he posted about his plan.

One sociologist opines that witnesses who egged the young man on “were in essence able to depersonalize. 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.” He believes that they “absolutely not” absolved. In most jurisdictions, they cannot be held legally liable for Biggs’ actions, although some states criminalize advising another person to commit suicide. Clearly, however, “technology blurs the lines between reality and that which is not real.”

The medical examiner confirmed that “if somebody had come immediately after he took tablets, then probably not all the tablets would have been absorbed. Then, therefore, they could wash his stomach and get rid of the additional tablets. Certainly, he would have had a much better chance.”

Ultimately, Biggs is the latest disturbed individual to gain fame through death. In 2007, a British citizen hanged himself while broadcasting live and another Florida resident shot himself. Of course, the numerous individuals who have planned and carried out school or workplace shooting rampages that culminated in their suicides have also sought notoreity through their heinous acts.

This tragic episode again underscores the need for caution when using the Internet. But it also raises troubling questions about what responsibility bloggers, in addition to messageboard, forum, and social networking site users bear to look out for each other. Biggs’ post was flagged by a reader, eventually reviewed by a site moderator, and the police ultimately informed of its contents. But if a live webcam continued broadcasting for as many as 12 hours and a significant portion of the broadcast occurred, as Biggs’ family alleges, after he lost consciousness while observers casually speculated about his well-being, this event demonstrates that Internet users are capable of disconnecting from reality to the point of becoming fatally callous to the plight of other participants at various social websites.

To what extent are we our brothers’ online keeper? What responsibility do we owe our fellow Internet users? Is anyone responsibility for the tragic death of Abraham Biggs? If so, who?


11 Comments

  1. Blog Expert

    I happened to run across to applaud and it caught my attention that you were using the thesis theme. It definitely makes your blog very likable. I like the touch of the Christmas stuff too.

    Blog Expert´s most recent post: 3 Surefire Ways to Show You’re an Expert

  2. Frank Polenose

    A sad story but the key line for me was that the internet does blur the boundaries for a lot of people between reality and fiction. It’s sad that this happens.

  3. carol at A Second Cup

    In the end Abraham is responsible for his own death. This event has that surreal quality to it in that one can’t quite believe it happened. Perhaps his death will have people reacting quickly the next time (and there most likely will be a next time).

    carol at A Second Cup´s most recent post: Parenting In the Real World: Taming the Greedies Part 3

  4. I personally couldn’t believe it when I first heard about this story. It’s becoming more and more of the thing to do now, I’ve heard of over 5 suicides by ‘web’ in which people watch them kill themselves. It seems so twisted and sick that it comes to this point, in which people advocate and tell the person to do it and how sad it is that someone is at that point in their life to decide whether or not they wanna live.

  5. I think that is tragic that people would sit by and watch or encourage. I totally think we are our brother’s keepers. I really think we should be helping and encouraging others to be better, and have the responsibility to lift others.

    as far as this poor guy, I don’t know if anyone is to really blame, but too bad no one could have come to his aid sooner.

    corrine´s most recent post: On the Fourth Day Of Christmas….

  6. It really is a sad commentary on today’s society that people would have encouraged him to kill himself. Unfortunately, I have seen things like that first hand. It truly is very sad.

    Todd´s most recent post: Where does the time go?

  7. I don’t think anyone is responsible for this, except Biggs himself. When someone commits suicide, except in certain situations, you can’t blame anyone but the person themselves. This reminds me of that movie where people would watch people get killed online. There is a psychology component to this, people don’t do anything because they think someone else will, but if everyone thinks like that, nothing gets done.

  8. wow, that’s really sad. it does make you wonder, though, because it’s the internet… how much of what you read & see is real or not? or just someone putting up stuff to get attention? in any case, it’s not a joking matter and whoever wrote it needs a lot of love and help.

  9. This is so sad.

    I would think we are as responsible to our online family as we would be to anyone else we see to be in trouble.

    The problem is that perhaps, some would not know what to do to try to stop the suicide and others may have thought that it was just a hoax.

    Reminds me of a movie I saw recently…”Untraceable” I think. It’s a story of a boy genius who hooks up murders on the Internet such that the more hits, the faster the victim dies.

    fathersez´s most recent post: Conserving water in the household – it’s all a matter of attitude

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