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11/24/2008
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Cops Eye Web Site's Role In Streaming Video Suicide

Police investigating the death of Abraham Biggs Jr. are looking at forum moderators and users.

Police in Florida are investigating the role of Web site moderators and discussion board members in a live streaming video of a teen's suicide last week.

Nineteen-year-old Abraham Biggs Jr. wrote that he intended to kill himself with a combination of prescription drugs, offered a link to his Web cam, and invited people to watch. Members of a discussion board commented on the event as it unfolded.

Some expressed shock, while others laughed or encouraged Biggs to die. Some members uncovered Biggs' identity, phone number, and address, and at least one online community member called police. Twelve hours after Biggs posted the note and a link to Justin.tv through a discussion board on bodybuilding.com, police found his lifeless body while the suicide video continued to stream online.

Some of the disturbing comments occurred after Biggs had lost consciousness or died. Justin.tv, the forum where Biggs streamed the incident, deleted the video and the related string of comments, so it is unclear whether taunts were made before Biggs lost consciousness or took the pills.

Biggs' father told The Associated Press that he believes his son's post was a cry for help and that he is appalled that no one responded before it was too late. The Pembroke Pines Police Department confirmed in an interview over the weekend that they are looking into what role, if any, Web site moderators and online community members played in the situation.

People who claimed to have witnessed the event said in online postings that they tried to get help from Web site moderators who did not take the situation seriously and respond until members made several pleas for help. Several people also said it was difficult to determine whether the footage was real and whether Bigg's threat was serious because they claim he had made similar threats before.

The Web sites' operators have not commented on the investigation, but Justin.tv CEO Michael Seibel issued a statement.

"We regret that this has occurred and want to respect the privacy of the broadcaster and his family during this time," he said.

Other people have streamed their suicides and plotted suicide with others online. Suicide is illegal in many places and those who attempt it but fail can face prosecution.

Posting video of a suicide is not generally a criminal offense, although it violates terms of use on sites like Justin.tv, which ban inappropriate and violent content. However, that site, and others like it, rely on users to report inappropriate content, making it impossible in some cases to prevent live footage.

In New York State, anyone who advises someone to commit suicide can be charged with manslaughter.

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