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MySpace image of Abraham Biggs

Viewers Watch Teen’s Suicide Online

November 24, 2008 12:54 PM
by Isabel Cowles
Florida teenager Abraham Biggs committed suicide over a live video stream, while users encouraged him and then watched him die.

Video Overdose

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Abraham Biggs Jr., 19, of Pembroke Pines, Fla., used a bodybuilding chat room to communicate his suicidal intentions to other users. He then began broadcasting on a video streaming site, and at least 180 and perhaps as many 1,000 viewers watched for 12 hours as Biggs overdosed on drugs and died.

Biggs, who suffered from bipolar disorder, announced his intentions through a series of posts. According to The Globe and Mail, Biggs posted a suicide note on the bodybuilding forum that read, “I want my life to end. I am tired of f@#$ing up everything. I am tired of people always telling me that they do not like me. I am tired of trying to be decent.”

Biggs told viewers, “I’ve had 7 roxies and 3 ultram and now I have lexapro left,” to which another user responded, “You want to kill yourself? Do it, do the world a favor and stop wasting our time with your mindless self-pity.”

Hours later, a viewer alerted Web site monitors, who then contacted police. Authorities did not arrive in time to save the teen. “I find it, you know, very sad that people sit back at home and watch something like that and not call some help for him,” his father told reporters, “and he was crying out for help, and I wasn’t home to help him.”

Parry Aftab, executive director of WiredSafety, an organization dedicated to preventing cyberabuse, explained that the Internet may have encouraged viewers to feel unaccountable and even to encourage Biggs’ actions: “The internet is crazy,” Aftab said. “You get mob behavior much faster, people … say things they only think about but never say out loud.”
Many viewers did not take Biggs’ threats seriously, since he had threatened suicide on the site several times before. Some believed that he was faking the attempt.

Biggs’ death is part of a trend of cyber-suicides, where individuals communicate their intentions to an online community and take their own lives over live video. According to Keith Whitworth, a professor of sociology at Texas Christian University, people involved in such suicides are often desperate for recognition.

“It ends with a suicide, but knowing that afterward it will be widely disseminated,” Whitworth told USA Today, linking the trend to Japanese cyber-suicides and school shootings. He expressed concern that this incident will inspire similar suicides: “If they see that this is one way of getting national and international attention,” he said, “there is the fear that there will be copycat incidents.”

Background: Britain’s first cyber-suicide

In 2007, the U.K. witnessed its first reported online suicide. Kevin Whitrick, father of two girls, hanged himself while streaming video on an “insult” chat room, where users log on to "have a go at each other,” This is London reported. When Whitrick expressed his intentions, one user wrote in, “F***ing do it, get on with it, get it round your neck. For F***'s sake he can’t even do this properly.” Concerned users eventually called the police, but authorities were unable to reach Whitrick in time to save him. 

Related Topic: Japanese Internet suicide clubs

In 2004, a BBC News article reported that Internet suicide clubs have grown popular in Japan, where suicide rates are on the rise. Many Japanese people seeking to kill themselves are interested in doing it in company, and have turned to specially designed suicide chat rooms to discover partners or groups with whom to take their own lives.

According to a 2007 article in The Atlantic by David Samuels, suicide rates in Japan have risen 5 percent per year for the last decade. Samuels argues that the Internet has facilitated this rise. “Once online, it is easy for such groups to attract new members from the free-floating population of lonely, curious, or dissatisfied souls who exist in all times and places, and in all cultures,” Samuels writes. “Vulnerable and unstable members of society are socialized into virtual communities whose shared vocabulary and values become an antidote to loneliness, even as they propel their members toward death.”
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