Friday, November 21, 2008

Abraham K. Biggs, liability, and responsibility

Let's start by quoting from Duncan Riley's post in the Inquisitr about the death of Abraham K. Biggs:

Abraham K. Biggs, 19 from Florida committed suicide live on Wednesday after being encouraged by viewers to do so....

Biggs threatened to overdose on pills live on on a bodybuilding forum at According to eyewitness reports, moderators didn’t believe him, and other users either on, or both egged him on to do it.

As Lipstick Alley noted, Biggs then wrote the following note:

Ask a guy who is gonna OD (again) tonight anything
To Whom It May Concern,
I am going to leave this for whoever stumbles across my bookmarks later on.
I hate myself and I hate living. I think that if someone who knows me
reads this they will know who I am. So I will leave this unsigned. I am
an a@#hole. I have let everyone down and I feel as though I will never
change or never improve. I am in love with a girl and I know that I am
not good enough for her. I have come
to believe that my life has all been meaningless. I keep trying and I
keep failing. I have thought about and attempted suicide many times in
the past. I used to think of my failure as some mystical way of telling
me that I was really meant for something meaningful. The only thing I
dread, besides the pain, is the way my family will suffer. I do not want
my mother or father to think that it was anything they did that lead me
to kill myself. I never really had any plans of leaving a note. I
thought that I would not be able to describe why I want to do this and I
am right. There is no way to tell you or anyone else why I dread every
new day. My father had such high expectations for me and tried to give
me every opportunity to improve upon myself. I let him down. I think
that I am a major disappointment to him. I have a job but I?m always broke
and I am in college but barely, I show up to class but that?s about it.
I want my life to end. I am tired of f@#$ing up everything. I
am tired of people always telling me that they do not like me. I am
tired of trying to be decent. I hope that someone finds this post and I
hope that my parents know that I f@#$ed up not them. It is my fault I
screwed up my own life.
The hate that rages within me, rages not for those I love so dearly or
those who have crossed my path.
This hate rages full force towards me and only me.
I have long forgiven those who've hurt me, but I have not and cannot
come to terms to forgive myself for the things I have done to myself, and
the things I've done to hurt those in my life.
You have all touched my life in one way or another,
especially those whom I call family.
I cannot tell you how sorry I am for ending my life the way I did. I
hope that you can all find it in your heart to see it as way for me not
suffering anymore and that I am finally at rest with myself, for being at
rest with the guilt that constantly ate at me for so long.
Please forgive me all for taking my own life so early. I tried so hard
to fight against this strong battle. I have reached out for help so many
times, and yet I believe, I was turned away because of the things I did,
that it is a punishment I am willing to take, for I know that being who I am
has only brought myself and others pain.
I love you all and will forever live within the memories we created.
Forgive me.
Love always and forever,
As for my signature I will leave you with a quote so that if anyone
reads this they will know it's me, "Can?t feel pain if your dead? Just Saying"

Riley then picks up the story:

Biggs...downed a pile of pills then “went to sleep” all on camera. According to a report here, “he breathes for a few hours, people think he’s going to be alright and keep joking and trash talking him on”. Some time later people realize he was not moving, someone tracks down his details, calls police and paramedics, who then broke into his house to come to his aid…with that all being streamed live as well.

Biggs passed away, and Michael Seibel of issued a statement. This is what he said:

As for the broadcaster incident last night, we don’t comment on individual videos, however, our policy prohibits inappropriate content on We rely on the community to flag videos that they feel are objectionable. Once a video is flagged, it is reviewed and quickly removed from the system if it violates our Terms of Use. also posted a statement on its blog (h/t Paul Buchheit): staff would like to take a moment to recognize and reflect upon the tragedy that occurred within our community today. We respect the privacy of the broadcaster and his family during this challenging time.

Michael Seibel

The Inquisitr posting launched a spirited FriendFeed discussion which explored, among other topics, the issue of liability.


This is absolutely devastasting. I feel for his family and real friends. It is appalling to me that 'he would have done it somewhere anyway' is accepted. This boy is dead. And people watched him die. is liabile full stop for airing it and the forum posters are accessories to aiding a suicide. We need as a community to stand beside each other not point and cajole at each other and enjoy another's downfall and pain. My heart aches for man.


I don't see how is liable for this. That's going a little too far. It's a messed up situation and someone is dead. People don't seem to appreciate the formal response from and people in the forum probably should have acted sooner, but you can't start throwing blame around. This person took their own life. It's sad, but that is the case.

PC Easy:

How is responsible or liable for any of this. Even if they never closed down the channel or the clip, still - what are they responsible for???? This is a tragic situation, but don't blame those boys.

Once I read these and other statements in the thread, I ended up adding one of my own:

And regarding liability...the eggers and may not be liable, but they are responsible, in the same way that I am responsible if I fail to feed a homeless person, and that person later starves to death. Failing to do good is just as bad as succeeding in doing evil.

Now, while one could certainly look at this in religious terms ("who is my neighbor?"), I can theists, deists, atheists, and everyone else who believes in societies can agree that there is a secular concept of society that was violated here. As I said later in the thread, "I personally believe that we are interdependent members of society, responsible for the welfare of others." To that end, I look at the responsibility for this event as follows:

  • Abraham K. Biggs was himself responsible for his own death. I do not buy the premise that we bear no responsibility for our own actions. No matter what pressures are facing us - and Biggs was apparently faced by many, based upon the text in the suicide note - we are still able to make choices, including the choice to end our own lives.

  • The "eggers" were responsible for Biggs' death. Not liable, perhaps, but certainly responsible. I don't care if they're minors, I don't care if Biggs was...well, whatever. The people watching the video should have entertained the possibility that they may have been witnessing a death. Instead, they assumed that no death was taking place, or perhaps they kept their suspicions to themselves. Regardless, Biggs died on their watch, and perhaps he would be alive today if different choices had been made.

  • was responsible for Biggs' death. Again, I'm not talking about liability; I would not like to see a situation where every online host is responsible for policing every utterance on their services. And let's ignore the cold, legalese nature of's response for a moment (though Riley and others have had a lot to say about that). had a system in place to detect "inappropriate content," and they had a stated policy that their users were responsible for detecting the content. Obviously, this system didn't work. By way of comparison, let's say that I left a loaded gun in a locked case, but that someone picked the lock - my protection system didn't work, and I am responsible for the consequences. Will re-evaluate their methods of screening for objectionable content, or will they continue to hide - not even using Biggs' name - and say that they will refer all question to someone who will refuse to answer them?
Well, I'm not the only person who's blogging about this. Duncan Riley obviously blogged about it, and so did Wilson Cleveland of Clever Witty Quick, who was feeling none of the above when this was written:

I'm in PR, I've counseled clients similar to Justin.TV through similar crises. I understand the hand-wringing that goes on in the C-suites of Internet companies when a crisis occurs. Blame the users for not flagging the content! Blame the victim for not reading our Terms of Service! Blame society for everything else! If I were Michael Seibel or his PR rep, I would probably demonstrate a bit more compassion for this kid’s family in his statement to the media. There is a frigid non-chalance in these words. In reality, most people wouldn’t blame the site or its management for this incident and those that would blame Justin.TV would have done so anyway. To treat a tragic suicide as a “violation of the terms of use” is PR posturing at its most heartless.

And Eric posted some thoughts. First, talking about the forum participants who deleted their own messages after learning that the suicide truly was a suicide:

It must be a very sad thing indeed when all you do is help someone kill them self and then slink away back into the darkness.

And Eric closed his post as follows:

['s] policy, moderators and users failed this young man. Perhaps we all did.

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