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A Tech-Econ Mashup with a Libertarian Flavor

Police Investigate Teen’s Suicide Webcast

Florida police are investigating role of an internet discussion board in the live webcast of a teenager’s suicide last week.

Nineteen-year-old Abraham Biggs Jr. wrote that he intended to kill himself with a combination of prescription drugs, offered a link to his Web cam, and invited people to watch. Members of a discussion board commented on the event as it unfolded.

Some expressed shock, while others laughed or encouraged Biggs to die. Some members uncovered Biggs’ identity, phone number, and address, and at least one online community member called police. Twelve hours after Biggs posted the note and a link to Justin.tv through a discussion board on bodybuilding.com, police found his lifeless body while the suicide video continued to stream online.

Biggs’ father expressed that he was appalled that several commenters and moderators on the forum didn’t take his son’s threat seriously. Anybody who has spent some time on web forums knows that 1.) these kind of  cry-for-help antics aren’t exactly uncommon enough to be newsworthy, and 2.) forum members can be the biggest jerks you’ll (n)ever meet. The same anonymity of a screen name that makes a kid feel safe divulging all of his or her most personal thoughts also empowers otherwise-normal people to act like complete creeps. Recognizing these facts, I don’t think it’s exactly reasonable to expect that some sixteen-year-old discussion board monitor plays the role of mental health advocate whenever one of his imbalanced peers chooses to vent their emotional frustrations to the world.

So, the burning question is whether sad stories like this (or the Megan Meier suicide, which was turned over to a federal jury yesterday) are putting us on the road to some kind of regulation? My prediction: probably. Demands to protect “the children” usually sound like more urgent moral imperatives than calls to preserve the freedom of the internet, especially when that freedom has the capacity to lead to, or fail to deflect, the suicide of a teenager. And short-sighted legislators and politicians seem to love moonlighting as warriors for some great moral cause, particularly when it involves “the children.” /sarcasm.

Afterthought: Biggs’ suicide is very reminiscent of the self-publicized suicide of A.I. researcher Chris McKinstry.

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Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect.
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