Blog - BS Data, hackery, stories

Live and let die online

Screenshot from 2013-10-15 22:59:47

(This article was published on one of our training blogs this afternoon)
Social media was reacting to yesterday’s tragedy after a Chilean user published a tweet announcing his suicide in 140 characters.

“I love you”, said the scheduled tweet, with a link to a web page he created to explain the why and the how of his act.

In this case, Twitter is ­ to a certain extent ­ one of the tools of the suicide; the same tool that was used by Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi in 2010 to announce his ‘departure.’ The Chilean boy’s father learned his son’s passing via Twitter.

But this new case of suicide announced online asks another question: what does it mean to die today?

For Facebook, death is no longer a final departure. You stay alive and present on the social network. After providing some official documents, just like you would do for closing the deceased’s bank account, Facebook will ‘memorialize’ the profile, meaning that nobody will ever be able to log in, but that everything will still be accessible online ­ for eternity.

And God forgive your family for trying to access your account to delete it: Facebook will sue them under their Privacy Policy and the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

It is not uncommon to read these days that Twitter could help preventing suicide. What is sure is that now death has another dimension: you also die online.

On Monday evening, I was reading yet another story of a Chilean Twitter user who committed suicide and told the world with a scheduled tweet which landed on Twitter after the boy's death.
The reaction in Chile was big enough for being picked up by some news websites across Europe.

Understand me: each death is tragic, but a Chilean killing himself is no big news for many of us.
No, what bothered me, is the role of our dear social media in this affair.

Premeditation of suicides is a thing. It would be madness to consider that each and every suicide can be reduced to an impulsion and a sudden will.
Leaving a note can easily be understood: saying goodbye, blaming something or someone, and so on.

But this affair is way different, as it shows a complete confusion between the private and the public spheres. Just look at this fact: the father learned his son's suicide on Twitter and then rushed to his apartment to find a corpse. It just feels wrong. The tweet and the web page are not just a note, they are a public note - that social media users probably saw before the boy's family.
But again, suicides with a public dimension are not something entirely new. The Tibetan monks burning themselves are a good example of that.

The new thing is the online dimension that death is embracing. Many of us developed an online existence, and this existence has to terminate too.

Now, the horrifying part. Facebook. Again. Your Facebook profile is not an extension of your living experience any more, it is something that transcends you and that will outlive you. Something that even your family can't control. Because Facebook decided to build a memorial at your name for you. Because Facebook said so.

I'm waiting for the next Facebook feature: on your home page, a reminder for your friend's birthday; and one for the anniversary of your friend's passings - a very appropriate opportunity for you to write them a little message on their wall. Which will stay online forever.