I’m not convinced that (largely anonymous) and vicious verbal attacks through blogs are enough to drive anyone to suicide. Maybe I’m wrong, but news of an advertising executive in the US killing himself at least partly because of what was published about him online is a bit of a stretch. And this, as the article notes, isn’t the first time (in the US) someone’s killed themselves because of insults against them published online. Hope none of the judges from Chillies follow suit. And if I had taken Rajpal’s insults seriously, I would have killed myself a long time ago.
More seriously though and as a general point, I keep going back to David Pogue’s sentiments of last year. Speaking of the timbre of debate online, the NY Times renown tech columnist said:
The real shame, though, is that the kneejerk “everyone else is an idiot” tenor is poisoning the potential the Internet once had. People used to dream of a global village, where maybe we can work out our differences, where direct communication might make us realize that we have a lot in common after all, no matter where we live or what our beliefs.
But instead of finding common ground, we’re finding new ways to spit on the other guy, to push them away. The Internet is making it easier to attack, not to embrace.Maybe as the Internet becomes as predominant as air, somebody will realize that online behavior isn’t just an afterthought. Maybe, along with HTML and how to gauge a Web site’s credibility, schools and colleges will one day realize that there’s something else to teach about the Internet: Civility 101.
Especially after the Kathy Sierra incident, there’s been a lot of debate in the US in particular and on various blogs about freedom of expression vs. hate speech. It’s not an easy debate as this article from Ars Technica highlights or this post and the responses to it bring out.
But suicide? I’m not ruling it out totally, but to kill oneself because of online insults sounds just a bit too extreme. I guess you have to be suicidal first, or some sort of a manic depressant, to be affected by vitriolic online content to the degree that it acts as a trigger to take one’s life. Getting suicidal solely because of online content sounds a bit fanciful to me.
I think the larger problem is that in an age when everyone’s first impressions are through Google, content that’s insulting to you online and downright factually incorrect is impossible to delete and for those who don’t know you well, may appear to be legitimate grievances.
If you are the target of hate speech online, I think there are better ways to deal with it than killing yourself, but I’m interested in the opinion of anyone out there who has actually dealt more with this issue, that I think is really quite central to the manner in which we communicate today.