It was bound to happen. It was only a matter of time before somewhere, sometime, somehow, the universal disease of self-aggrandizement combined with our unnerving penchant for voyeurism to produce tragedy.
I read a lot of terrible things on-line, but this one, the one I’m referring to, is one of the worst. A 14-year-old girl live streamed her suicide on Facebook Live.
This little girl broadcast for two hours from the bathroom of the home where she was living, before ending her life in that room. If a louder, more desperate plea for help has ever existed, I’ve never heard it. I won’t detail the exchanges published on the news, but they were words of absolute despair and pain.
As I continued to read this story, I learned that this poor girl’s suicide wasn’t the first one streamed live on Facebook (which, considering the “live” capability is less than a year old, isn’t exactly a great endorsement for the feature). Just before Christmas, a 12-year-old girl did the same thing while live streaming for nearly an hour. And to add insult to injury, after her relatives took down the post, viewers, who had saved versions of the live video, posted it elsewhere on-line.
And just when I had momentarily attributed these types of actions to children too young to understand, I came across more articles about adults taking their own lives on Facebook Live, and many others, of all ages, attempting to do the same but luckily being stopped when viewers alerted police about their broadcasts.
What is the world coming to? Are people so overwhelmed by emotion that Facebook Live has become the preferred platform to express their pain?
For all their techy appeal, these live-stream features, Facebook Live and the rest of them, have allowed us to show off our worst selves. People young and old seem to have this strange belief that no act is real unless it’s recorded on social media. As one high school student I know put it recently, “if it doesn’t go viral, it might as well not happen at all.”
One need only spend a few hours browsing on-line news outlets to find horrific, senseless examples of what I mean. Earlier this year, four people were charged with hate crimes after kidnapping and torturing a mentally disabled man in Chicago. It was captured, for reasons I can’t imagine, during a 30-minute video live streamed for their audience. Who they were trying to impress is beyond me. Were they doing it to show off? To taunt the police? To make themselves feel important? Who knows? All we know is that it happened, and the only motivation, it seems, was attention.
Not to be outdone, a mother in Ohio was charged with a third-degree felony after she live streamed her crying toddler taped to a wall. (Duct taped. To a wall. How is that even possible?) A TV station alerted the police to the Facebook Live video, in which the mother can be heard saying, “You can’t clean without them running around? Tape them to the wall. You can’t cook because they’re running around? Tape them to the wall.”
Seriously? Who benefits from a display like this? Does she believe people regularly tape humans to surfaces? Did she think anyone was going to see it and laugh? Was Ellen Degeneres going to call her to be on the show?
A few more questions, while I’m at it: are we all so mesmerized by style over substance that we’ve completely lost our way? Is being well-known tantamount to being important? Am I just too old or too boring to understand the appeal of having my behavior, good or bad, broadcast for the world to see?
Facebook touts its feature as the new, trendy place to show friends what you’re up to, likely trying to compete with the immediacy of Snapchat in broadcasting video for all your friends to see. But if these examples are any indication, what people are “up to” doesn’t seem to be particularly pleasant, or even humane, in some cases. Is it of any value to have a platform with the ability to instantly make our actions visible to the world if we’re going to use it for swaggering and flaunting all the worst parts of ourselves?