Update: Reddit Suicide Lawsuit Is a Hoax

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Update: Reddit Suicide Lawsuit Is a Hoax

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Being a jerk online may now have legal repercussions.

Update: More facts have come to light regarding the story of "Jerry" and his sister who planned to bring a lawsuit against Reddit-users and Jerry's ex-wife for wrongfully encouraging him to commit suicide. A spokesman for the Tukwila Police Department, where a man did in fact kill himself by jumping from a hotel's 8th floor, had this to say about the incident:

The case detective and the victim's family confirm that the victim in the Tukwila Doubletree suicide was not named Jerry. He did not have a sister, an ex-wife, or a daughter. We are not going to release his name until after the case is closed, probably in a few months.

The elaborate hoax cobbled together real facts to tell a compelling but imagined story. The post on Reddit's forum was real, and Black_Visions did make comments about his own death. Around that same time, a man killed himself in Tukwila, and a nameless entity on Reddit decided to link those two events, along with the fabricated story of a pending lawsuit, a cruel ex-wife, and a handicapped daughter. Reddit, or the users involved, took the whole thing seriously enough to delete the offending posts, so the hoax was frighteningly effective.

I'm not sure what the point of such a hoax was, but even if it allowed us to consider our actions on the internet a bit closer and what the possible repercussions would be, then I will call that a win.

Thanks to the many users who pointed out the hoax.

Source: New York Magazine

Original Post: If you saw someone about to jump off a building, you might be moved enough to offer help and encouragement to the hapless soul. But when nine Reddit users saw a post by a 51-year-old named Jerry describing his intent to commit suicide, they didn't help, they encouraged him to end it all. Now they, along with Jerry's ex-wife, who allegedly said "fuck off and die already" when notified of his intentions, are named defendants in a wrongful death suit filed by the victim's sister - known only as Sandy.

"Our family has decided to take legal action not only against his ex-wife, but those who urged him on to take his own life," wrote Sandy in a post on Reddit. "Our lawyer will be filing a wrongful death suit in Washington State against nine individuals." All proceeds from the suit - if there are any - will go towards a trust for Jerry's disabled 20-year-old daughter.

The final post from Jerry, posting as black_visions on the subforum on Men's Rights, was called "A lot of trolls tonight ...": "I just wanted to say that, before I check out. This is probably my last post with this account. I just can't see any reason to continue this existence any more. Time to add another notch to the statistics," he wrote a month ago.

Several users doubted that he would follow through with his threat to kill himself with one hoping it was all a "sick joke." This brought Jerry to respond, which he does a few times in the thread. "You know I wasn't planning on posting any more, but this post just pissed me off. No, it's not a sick joke, as soon as I get the right tool for the job I'll happily blow my brains out."

From there, several users allegedly told black_visions to off himself in non-compassionate tones, but all of the offending posts have since been removed. Several Reddit users did offer help and encouragement - in fact, the ratio of helpful users to evil posts seems to overwhelmingly support helping Jerry, but it's hard to judge with so many of the posts deleted. Sadly, none were able to get through to Jerry and he took his own life. On March 13, Jerry fell 8 stories out of a hotel room in Tukwila, Washington, dying instantly.

Many Reddit users have come out to discuss the story. For example, in a post today, the situation was outlined. "One month ago, Reddit user and MRA [Men's Rights Activists] Black_Visions wrote about his impending suicide. SRS [ShitRedditSays] trolls AlyoshaV (now recanted), letsgetwhitey and others egged him on in an ugly display of human indecency," said tad. He ended his brief post with some commentary: "Lesson: Drama has consequences."

What's troubling about this story is not only that the Reddit commentors are being held accountable for trolling, but also that Reddit itself is subpoenaed to report the real names of the users involved in the suit. The community website will likely comply to avoid bad press or potential backlash, but what precedent will that set, especially as we face future SOPA-like legislation? The Powers of the Internet have long resisted the idea that a website can be held accountable for the actions of its users. Would cooperating with this lawsuit revealing the name and location of the offensive users in this case ruin the anonymity that is such a big part of the web experience?

Given that such anonymity allowed these despicable people to encourage a man to commit suicide, does that even matter? Is your right to be a jerk online more important than a man's life? I can't answer any of these questions, but I'll be following this story to find out what happens.

Whether the wrongful death suit brought by Sandy and Jerry's surviving family is successful, this is a terrible tragedy and our thoughts and condolences go out to those affected by it.

Drama has consequences.

Permalink

These people were perhaps directly responsible for him taking his life. Getting Reddit to give up their information is the right thing to do. They definitely do not have to be allowed to be able to hide behind their anonymity.

I hope they all get just a small taste of the hell they put him through.

SRS is a pretty shitty place and to say they went too far is an understatement. I hope the people who caused this get a just punishment.

EDIT Bit of a knee jerk reaction, don't care as much now. Reddit wasn't the right place to post but I still feel SRS are douchebags of the greatest magnitude.

EDIT: Removed both of my posts here.

You'd kill the internet porn industry overnight, guaranteed.

I thought this crap was exclusive to Youtube and 4chan.

The real names should be used.
People seem to think they can be douche bags just cause they have the safety of anonymity.
This has to stop. Anyone who would actually encourage a man to jump off a building in person, is messed. Same goes online.

"Is your right to be a jerk online more important than a man's life?"

Any of my rights is more important tan the life of someone who wants to throw it off a building anyway, I see no conflict here.

I'm sorry for the families who feel like blaming internet trolling for their unhappiness... but the whole matter is just ridiculous.

From another point of view: A man killed himself for an internet comment? Successful troll is successful?

I am going to preface this post with a quick message: These guys are scum, they are evil and they are vile. No two ways about it.

However, does this really constitute a crime? I mean, firstly he did say he was going to kill himself before all this happened. Should these people be allowed to be sued? I don't think so. As much as I wish that they should, I truly don't believe they should. Especially since some of them probably don't even live in the US, and they certainly shouldn't be sued, since you can't deport them for this. I also don't think Reddit should be made to give up user info, that just sets a bad precedent.

Again, these guys are scum, but I don't think they've done anything to be sued for. I feel sorry for his family, too.

razer17:
I am going to preface this post with a quick message: These guys are scum, they are evil and they are vile. No two ways about it.

However, does this really constitute a crime? I mean, firstly he did say he was going to kill himself before all this happened. Should these people be allowed to be sued? I don't think so. As much as I wish that they should, I truly don't believe they should. Especially since some of them probably don't even live in the US, and they certainly shouldn't be sued, since you can't deport them for this. I also don't think Reddit should be made to give up user info, that just sets a bad precedent.

Again, these guys are scum, but I don't think they've done anything to be sued for. I feel sorry for his family, too.

I think this is one of the more interesting things about debates like this. Even thought the internet has been around for quite a while, there's still so much new going on with regards to precedent[1], that even though people will probably forget about this in a few months, it could become very important later on down the line

[1] I think they just had a case about whether criminals should be forced to give up computer passwords

Greg Tito:

What's troubling about this story is not only that the Reddit commentors are being held accountable for trolling, but also that Reddit itself is subpoenaed to report the real names of the users involved in the suit. The community website will likely comply to avoid bad press or potential backlash, but what precedent will that set, especially as we face future SOPA-like legislation? The Powers of the Internet have long resisted the idea that a website can be held accountable for the actions of its users. Would cooperating with this lawsuit revealing the name and location of the offensive users in this case ruin the anonymity that is such a big part of the web experience?

So if they rang him up and taunted him by phone, the phone company shouldn't reveal the name of the account holder? Just because something online why should it be different from everything else?

Honestly, I have hard time understanding why they should be charged with anything. It would be like charging a bank simply cause they evicted a person from a house and therefor he/she committed suicide..

I'm sure I will get a lot posts disagreeing with me, but I fail to see the reason why other people should be punished when a person that (I'm assuming) didnt like his life and therefor wanted to kill himself and then went onto a website that is "famous" for trolling people and told them that he would kill himself.

Trolling is a right.
If you're the kind of person that gets offended by an anonymous comment (expecting anonymous comments to be anything but offensive), you seriously have white people problems. Learn to shrug it off and deal with it. The Internet does not care about your drama and feelings, nor will it ever. No amount of legislation is ever going to change that. (It might make it go away if it forces all conversation to be unbearably polite, in which case people would simply troll more subtly, but with the same meaning.)

That aside, he was already intending to kill himself. And Reddit, like 4chan, has the kind of community that would easily tell you to blow your brains out. That should be obvious to anyone who frequents those places. The same applies to high school bullies, gang members and whatever other real life spiteful people you can think of, but you don't see them being sued for acting like they usually do.

Words have consequences. Time than people start to learn that. Don't be a jerk, don't tolerate others being jerks, don't live by the wrong saying "sticks and stones".

A sad story indeed.

I've been guilty of trolling in the past, and I can't say I wont in the future as I know I'll likely forget any boundaries I set myself.

In saying that if my actions assisted in someone willingly taking their own life I feel whether it is online or not is irrelevant, I'd hold myself accountable and face the consequences.

80Maxwell08:
I'm going to be honest here. I hate anonymity. That is what leads to this kind of crap.

Well then, "80Maxwell08", go ahead and reveal your identity right here. Put your money where your mouth is. And not just "My name is Frank Carpenter", we need verification. IDs are so easy to spoof. And since your a principle man, take your ID or driver's license or something, hold it next to your face with a note that says: for The Escapist.
And please no "Everybody has to do it!"-nonsense, if real names aren't bad, how could it possibly hurt you?

Anonymous posting has a lot of bad side-effects, most notable that people become more aggressive, sarcastic, wise-cracking and know-it-all'y. But removing this will destroy the open discussion culture of the internet.
A web forum isn't a pub where you can sit on a table and talk life with your pals.
It's a recorded conversation that just about EVERYBODY can eavesdrop in for the foreseeable future.

What did he think was going to happen?

Anyone who spends anytime near reddit and such knows the meme "an hero".

I'm glad some people tried to talk him down, but I'm not surprised people didn't believe him ether and so made jokes and such. Because that's what it was to them, a joke. I really doubt anyone was like "Oh he's serious, let's spur him on." No, they just thought they were trolls trolling trolls.

The ex should be sued, she knows him.

But suing strangers... especially since the majority tried to HELP him. That's stupid.
How did they know it was for real, it's the boy who called wolf.
Saying people should assume it's real is... unrealistic.

Clearly, he committed suicide because the people on the internet hated him. Not because he was depressed or anything.

DVS BSTrD:
I hope they all get just a small taste of the hell they put him through.

I don't think they can.

angelrubio:
"Is your right to be a jerk online more important than a man's life?"

Any of my rights is more important tan the life of someone who wants to throw it off a building anyway, I see no conflict here.

If one didn't relate to the other, there might be an issue.

razer17:
I also don't think Reddit should be made to give up user info, that just sets a bad precedent.

Unfortunately, those of us with a sense of scope know this "precedent" already exists in the legal system and has for ages. Legally, they can be made to give up the real names. That's actually how one gets a subpoena in this sort of case.

From the sounds of it his ex-wife probably had a lot more to do with this then Reddit. If he'd received more positive feedback and support from Reddit maybe he wouldn't have done it, which is sad, but I doubt they're what pushed him over the edge.

Still, a sad case.

RubyT:

80Maxwell08:
I'm going to be honest here. I hate anonymity. That is what leads to this kind of crap.

Well then, "80Maxwell08", go ahead and reveal your identity right here. Put your money where your mouth is. And not just "My name is Frank Carpenter", we need verification. IDs are so easy to spoof. And since your a principle man, take your ID or driver's license or something, hold it next to your face with a note that says: for The Escapist.
And please no "Everybody has to do it!"-nonsense, if real names aren't bad, how could it possibly hurt you?

Anonymous posting has a lot of bad side-effects, most notable that people become more aggressive, sarcastic, wise-cracking and know-it-all'y. But removing this will destroy the open discussion culture of the internet.
A web forum isn't a pub where you can sit on a table and talk life with your pals.
It's a recorded conversation that just about EVERYBODY can eavesdrop in for the foreseeable future.

Yes, because Maxwell is acting with impunity in a negative manner. Therefore, him voluntarily giving up his identity will solve the problem!

Oh, wait.

There is a lot of hindsight blaming of those involved, but you fail to factor in any perspective. They couldn't of possibly known that it was serious, and frankly, if I had to hazard a guess, most such posts aren't. Was telling someone to jump off a building a nice thing to do? Certainly not, but most people assumed it wasn't serious, and I wouldn't of either. If I read that I wouldn't comment or maybe leave a "Oh no don't do it" and forget about it instantly. I can't see any way in which they can be criminally responsible for his death, excluding the Ex-wife of course who should REALLY know better. If you know someone personally you can judge these things, as real or a poor joke, but for someone anonymous on the internet it's unreasonable.

It's really easy to demand that someone pays for this, it's really easy to strip people of their anonymity because they said some stupid things, but I honestly do think that keeping the internet a free and safe medium (a bit of a strawman, I know) is more important than answering this witch hunt. Everyone has had someone say rude things to them on the internet, and most of us have said rude things to another, when someone can be sent to court for an insult of non-libelous nature, it effectively destroys the internet's anonymity.

EDIT: Removed both of my posts here.

I don't think Reddit should be held *liable* for their users actions, but they should be required to give the personal information to the authorities in this case, and I think that some sort of charges should be filed against these despicable people who would goad a man who was clearly in crisis.

Should such actions be taken for every case of "trash-talk"? No, that is ridiculous, but this is a wee bit different.

its called free will people, if I tell someone to go kill themselves and they do it that doesn't mean I have any responsibility for it.

I support suicide. If you want to kill yourself, that's fine with me. Perhaps it doesn't need to be encouraged, it is still a mean thing to say. but since when am I required to encourage other people to live? I have problems like everyone else, life for allot of people is terrible. Who am I to stand here and say, no you should live because...It's worth living? its an opinion.

I am so sick of these weak minded people shouting on roof tops, television or the internet for reasons to not do something stupid. Do these human beings do not know that there are people who get trained and paid to deal with these problems?

Why state, hey I'm going to kill myself on the internet? unless your tweeting a therapist I really don't see the point of it.

I don't know that person, but I'm glad they are dead. This is Darwinism at work, Yes it is not easy when a love one dies. Who can truly understand WHY someone decides to take their own life. but if its because he did it to spite people on the internet...well some how I really believe it was a little more than that.

Yet some puke lawyer is suddenly saying we don't legally have the ability to be responsible for our own lives, its other peoples fault?

I think if these people get convicted I might kill myself. whats the point of living when I am responsible for thinking for other people? I'm pretty sure I'd be doomed for failure judging by what happens so far.

When not caring becomes a crime, ready my cell.

They shouldn't be charged, and the case should be dismissed right out. Those comments had, more than likely, nothing to do with this suicide, he already planned to kill himself before the comments were made. It's more likely that he was in a weakened state of mind caused by severe depression. Punishing people, who probably thought he wasn't serious, would be wrong in itself. Punishing these people will do nothing, it won't bring the deceased back, nor will it grant any closure.

No, I can't even bring myself to hate the people who egged him on.

The man was suicidal, and I doubt a couple of comments by Reddit users are what pushed him over the edge. Even if they were, I still wouldn't put the blame on those users, I'd put the blame on whatever caused him to be so unstable in the first place. The only thing I consider them to be guilty of is bad taste, as telling someone to commit suicide is a little low even if you do think it's a joke.

This is just an unfortunate thing that has happened, and I doubt any specific person can be blamed for it (though of course without understanding the victim's personal situation, I can't know that for sure).

Yet another reason to sterilize humanity of the reddit community.

This is like the third time I have heard this happen.

Doesn't really surprise me to be honest. 'Suicide' is a really complex problem. On one hand, you have people who enjoy whining for attention; but equally present, are those we are legitimately suffering from mental trauma that they cannot break out of (aka: clinical depression). Depending on your personal biases, people will choose one interpretation over the other given a first impression. Personally, I just choose to stay far away as possible, because I don't want to make things worse. Believe me, I want the best for them. But depression is so powerful, the only thing I can do is recommend psychotherapy/psychiatry and hope for the best. It's the same reaction I get when I see homeless people. Futile sympathy.

Unfortunate death... check.

Community outrage... check.

Knee-jerk call for hastily-considered legislation... check.

Erosion of freedom... continuing.

If these people can be held responsible for causing a person's suicide, then so can landlords, banks, spouses, significant others, family members, schoolmates, or anyone else who can give a person a bad enough day that they make it their last.

Were these people assholes? Yes. Were they responsible for the man's death? No. The man was responsible for his own death. Suicide is a choice, and though the assholes contributed to the outcome of the choice, they cannot be held responsible for another man's choice. In a world gone as insane as some people here want it to be, if I was feeling spiteful enough I could just off myself and blame it on whoever I'm pissed at, and it would work.

Look, let's keep some perspective here. You're making the same mistake people often make with sensational deaths. If thousands die every year because of smoking or fatty foods, no one really gets worked up about it. If a couple thousand die in an unprecedented and so far unrepeated incident because of terrorism, then we panic so thoroughly that we start tossing out individual freedoms. Same insane principle at work here. Why don't you ban smoking for the sake of those thousands of people a year before tearing down internet privacy for the sake of the handful of people in an entire decade who, at the suggestion of trolls, take their own lives?

Doesn't surprise me. It was only recently Reddit announced they where "regretfully" banning pictures of underage girls in next to nothing.

blackriderrom:
snip

^^^ THIS

It is a tragic story, but the Reddit users are not at fault for his death.

I believe that the Reddit users have, or at least should have a right to troll.

EDIT: disregard former post

What's funny is that suicide mockery actually saved me. I was seriously depressed for several years upon discovern 4chan in 2004. I happened across a thread in which someone was threatening suicide and the denizens of anonymous were gleefully encouraging it. The memes, the callous responses, the funny gif images got me laughing so hard at the prospect of suicide that I started thinking rationally about how ludicrous it would be to kill myself. If any guilt is found in this case, I propose that we track down the dozens of people on that thread and creators of the gifs and honor them the same way we would honor a civilian talking someone down off of a ledge.

tl;dr. It's no one's fault when someone offs themselves except for the person who did it.

Wait wait wait, stop the presses.

Being a soulless human being is wrong?

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