Did suicide viewers commit a crime?

Did suicide viewers commit a crime?

Summary: 185 people watched Abe Biggs kill himself online. Some tried to talk him out of it, other goaded him on. No one notified authorities until it was too late. Was a crime committed?


The fact that dozens of people watched Abraham Biggs, Jr., kill himself on a webcam – none of whom alerted authorities until it was too late and many of whom goaded him on – is not only an outrage, it may be a crime. Police in Pembroke Pines, Fla., are investigating culpability of the viewers and of justin.tv, where the suicide was streamed, The Guardian says.

An investigator with the Broward County medical examiner's office, which is dealing with the case, confirmed that some web users had encouraged the teenager to harm himself, while others had tried to talk him out of ending his life. The messageboard where he left the original note has now been deleted, but not before other viewers had noted some of the harsher reponses.

"You want to kill yourself?" said one internet user reacting to the teenager's message. "Do it, do the world a favour and stop wasting our time with your mindless self-pity."

It's not clear to most observers whether watching or goading or broadcasting the suicide is a chargable offense.

Florida has a law against assisting suicide, Fla. Stat. 782.08:

782.08 ASSISTING SELF-MURDER.--Every person deliberately assisting another in the commission of self-murder shall be guilty of manslaughter, a felony of the second degree

But what is "assisting"? Is goading assisting? It doesn't seem likely to me. In a traditional murder, it would be no crime to watch – or even encourage -- one person to murder another, unless the encouragement was part of a conspiracy or duress.

On the other hand, in New York advising someone to kill themselves is manslaughter, InfoWeek reports. I haven't found a law like that in Florida, but it seems there would have to be such a law in order to prosecute.

Last year a British man killed himself on webcam, after being urged to "get on with it" by viewers. The Crown Prosecution Service decided that none of the comments amounted to a criminal offense, the Guardian reported.

A MySpace memorial page is here.

Topic: Legal

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  • A crime? Probably not...

    But it would seem the traditional Internet mob justice of public humiliation would not be inappropriate, for those who encouraged him to do it.
    • Defends on how you define "crime"

      Lawyers, judges, and/or juries would have to decide whether any laws were broken, but sitting there and watching someone kill himself without doing anything does strike me as being a criminal act, illegal or not.
      John L. Ries
      • Crime

        I totally agree with you. It was monstrous human behavior akin to a long-ago situation in New York where people overheard a woman, Kitty Genovese, being murdered and nobody even called the police.
  • few issues

    Goading someone is not assisting.. that would mean that cheering your favorites sports teams is actually helping them not fumble the ball or throw a grand slam pitch.

    This kid obviously needed help and as with anything done with an internet audience involved.. your going to get the full spectrum of responses. I personally dont care that the kid commited suicide, nor do i care that anyone goaded him into it.

    If i goad you into raming your car into another, i am not responsible for the damage, no.

    The parents should be blaming themselves, not the public. Yes, someone should have notified the parents.. but your talking about justin.tv... its on online website open to anyone. How do we know anyone knew the kid?

    People do strange things in front of web cams all the time... this isnt that far of a stretch. Looking at their TOS, suicide is not allowed.. but who follows the rules when they are going to kill themselves?

    As i said.. the only people who should feel responsible are the parents and the only person responsible is the kid. Its called suicide for a reason.

    At any rate.. my sympahties go to the parents for their loss.
    • Not Acceptable

      Morality has come down this low!
      Watching someone who is obviously sick kill himself without raising a finger, some even encouraging him ....
      Are Americans really what they claim to be, that they are a very developed people?
      • "Are Americans..."

        Don't know that there's anything in our culture that encourages people to cheer on suicides (I think it's criminal and I'm an American too) or how other countries compare. I think there is a minority that secretly believes that any sort of moral stand (except maybe against moralism itself) is a threat to human freedom (if enough people disapprove of something, they might outlaw it), but I don't think that's what's at play here either. Rather this is just plain boorishness by people who did nothing because they knew that they wouldn't be held to account.

        It's been said before, but character is about what you do when nobody else is looking.
        John L. Ries
      • Obviously sick?

        Only in 20/20 hindsight. If you were watching someone on a webcam or reading what they wrote, just exactly HOW would YOU be able to tell the whole thing was not just some sick Internet hoax to get attention unless you happen to be psychic, telepathic or have a working crystal ball!?
        • 20/20 hindsight??

          20/20 hindsight is NOT necessary... tell me what ANYONE would have lost by DOING THE RIGHT THING... and not only GIVING him the attention he sought... but making sure that 12 hours DID NOT ELAPSE between his desperate cry FOR help... and it arriving too late... although suicide is against the law... not too many of those who are successful at it are punished... unless you take into account the fact that they forfeited their life... there is NO right and good reason for helping or cheering someone on to self-destruction... this is NOT reality TV.. this is REAL LIFE... and sadly.. this time it resulted in loss of life....
    • Not so sure about that

      Your sports team reference is not accurate to this situation at all. First of all, sports are not a crime, and second of all, there is nothing that you could do to assist in that case, thus you bear no responsibility whatsoever.

      In this case, people watched, laughed, taunted, and agged on a kid who was literally killing himself. Any of them had the opportunity to help, even if they simply alerted a moderator to try to pull personal information and contact police. All of them had the option to not be assh*les.

      It depends on where it was located, but many states have Good Samaritan laws, that basically say if you don't help, you're criminally responsible for that action.

      This is not that different from seeing someone laying facedown in a puddle on the side of the road and instead of rolling him over to see if he is still breathing or calling an ambulance, you point, laugh, and go try to draw a crowd while he drowns.

      It's most certainly monsterous, and possibly illegal.

      You also ignore the fact that not all speech is protected. Speech directly intended to incite violence is criminal. If you goad a crowd into attacking or killing someone, that's a crime (that's why, incidentally, groups like the KKK have secret meetings - so no one can testify that they verbally incited violence in court and they can claim they are not, as an organization, responsible for the actions of individual members). Killing oneself may be the exception to that rule, but then again, it may not be.

      The real wild card I see here is did they know it was real? We see a lot of crazy stuff online, and it can be difficult to tell what's for real and what's fake. I have a feeling that most people didn't realize it was serious or that it was reality. They shouldn't be held accountable for that. But I do hope they feel like the pieces of garbage they are for goading him on and saying such incredibly horrible things, or for even THINKING that this might be funny, even if it wasn't for real. It would not surprise me if there was another suicide or some serious therapy required for a few of these little jerks. Nothing like a healthy dose of reality to make someone realize the gravity of their actions and statemens under the guise of internet anonimity.
  • RE: Did suicide viewers commit a crime?

    Anonymity brings out the worst in People online some guy
    posted a question not long ago on yahoo answers saying
    that he was going to kill himself one of the responders told
    the asker the best way for him to do that was to take a
    shot gun and blow his head off (I'm not kidding)

    There will always be anonymous jerks and trolls who goad
    people there's nothing to prevent it :(

    It's tough to know when someone is trolling or serious
    when they threaten suicide online I gave the asker a
    phone number for a suicide hotline and also reported the
    question to yahoo answers at least I did something and
    tried to help him unlike the stupid troll.
  • RE: Did suicide viewers commit a crime?

    Viewing a crime and not reporting it, espeially if timely reporting might have saved a life, if it isn't a crime, it should be.
  • RE: Did suicide viewers commit a crime?

    This so tragic...

    The guy looks so "together" and "with it"...

    This also a very sad commentary on our so totally self absorbed times...

    No one contacted authorities...

    But, who would you contact?

    How many would have known, actually known when this was going on who to contact?

    As for goading him on... As bad as crying fire, or bomb, in a crowded theatre. Unconscionable.

    Absolute low-lifery of the lowest order. Snail slime one and all...

    I think I would have liked to have met this young man.

    Now I never will...

    Bright intelligent eyes. Probably a mischievious streak...

    Sad, oh so sad...

    Mike Sr.
  • RE: Did suicide viewers commit a crime?

    1. No more of a crime than those that stand in the street yelling for a jumper to jump! Only a crime in a few states, actually.

    2. He's also the one that aired it; he got what he wanted, although not necessarily anything that'll be remembered for long.

    3. I hope those that urged him to die suffer endless nights of sleep apnea for their part in it. The net's full of that kind of idiotic sociopath anymore; they feel safe because they can't be seen. Fools & idiots, every one of them.
  • RE: Did suicide viewers commit a crime?

    That's the price of freedom. The kind of freedom that the internet provides to users is almost limitless. It is just sad to know that the venue by which people share their good stuffs to other people is also used by psychopaths to insinuate people to do harm to themselves and to others.

    You really can't blame the watchers for not calling the authorities or anybody who would have thwarted the tragic act because even if they thought of it, they also would have thought that this person is one of those morally challenged pshychopaths. Of course they knew that was not the case until he did kill himself.

    My symphaties to the parents of this kid and prayers that their other kids (if they have) will never be in the same or worse situation as their brother.
  • RE: Did suicide viewers commit a crime?

    Criminality is not the same as unethical behavior and callousness. It may not have been a crime in any legal sense but it certainly was one in a human sense.
  • RE: Did suicide viewers commit a crime?

    Not a crime. They all should seek medical attention. (they are very sick) The person committing suicide was seeking help. Just not in the right place.
  • It seems to me

    that what they did by telling him to do it is no worse than the lady that cause the young woman to kill herself on myspace. It was mean and pathetic!
  • Take out the computers to get your answer.

    Lets view it as a none digital event, a crowd is yelling (or not) "jump" to a suicide wannabe on a high ledge. Look up the statutes on this and you have your answer. Neither the concepts or morality differs between these two cases. Why do we get so confused whenever a computer is involved?
  • RE: Did suicide viewers commit a crime?

    I don't think it is a crime, but out of simple human decency, the viewers should have tried and could have prevented this from happening

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