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Reddit Subpoenaed In Wrongful Death Lawsuit 303

Posted by timothy
from the playing-the-blame-game dept.
redletterdave writes "In March, a 51-year-old Reddit user named 'Black Visions' wrote his last post on Reddit. He had been writing frequently about depression and suicide, but in his last post where he also threatened his own suicide, others decided to egg him on even further. That turned out to the be the last straw: Seattle news soon reported Jerry had jumped eight stories from a hotel room in the Double Tree in Tukwila, Washington. Reddit announced on Wednesday that the user's sister Sandy has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against nine Reddit users who egged him on, and Reddit has also been subpoenaed in identifying the information of another three individuals."
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Reddit Subpoenaed In Wrongful Death Lawsuit

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  • by msobkow (48369) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @01:33PM (#39660775) Homepage Journal

    The people involved did a despicable thing. But I can't see how it's any more illegal than someone shouting "Jump!" at someone on a roof top when emergency services are trying to talk them down.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 12, 2012 @01:35PM (#39660827)

      The people involved did a despicable thing. But I can't see how it's any more illegal than someone shouting "Jump!" at someone on a roof top when emergency services are trying to talk them down.

      The difference is simple. It's in writing, here. There's money to be made.

      • by demachina (71715)

        These are people who spend most of their time posting on Reddit. You think they actually have enough money to even cover the lawyer's bill to file the suit?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Shoten (260439)

        The people involved did a despicable thing. But I can't see how it's any more illegal than someone shouting "Jump!" at someone on a roof top when emergency services are trying to talk them down.

        The difference is simple. It's in writing, here. There's money to be made.

        I don't quite follow your point...are you saying that Reddit's business model encourages people to egg others on to cause suicide, because it was in writing? I don't follow how that's true at all. The people egging him on were commenters, who don't get paid to comment. And if you read the actual comment thread, you'll see that there were quite a few people trying to talk him out of it as well; did they all cause Reddit to lose money, or have to pay to post their comments?

        If you want to point fingers at e

        • by tattood (855883) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @03:08PM (#39662827)

          are you saying that Reddit's business model encourages people to egg others on to cause suicide, because it was in writing?

          No, I think he is saying that there is money to be made in suing those posters, as opposed to trying to sue someone who yells "jump" at someone on a building. It is easier to track down the commenters, than it would be to find the one person who egged on a jumper in a huge crowd of people.

    • But, but, this was on the Internet! That means activists who block access to establishments and graffiti artists spend over a decade in jail, and anyone who egged on a suicide should be sued for wrongful death! THIS IS SERIOUS BUSINESS!

      • by VMaN (164134)

        graffiti artists... oh boy. If I caught someone tagging or "expressing themself" on my property, I'd have no problem shooting them in the knee (if I could get away with it)..

    • by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @01:37PM (#39660873)

      But I can't see how it's any more illegal than

      It's not illegal. A 'wrongful death' lawsuit is a civil action, not a criminal one. In this country, you can be sued for anything. I can sue you for pointing out that suing people for stupid shit is stupid, or because you have a lower slashdot ID than I do. I'm perfectly serious here; citation [wikipedia.org]

    • by TopSpin (753) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @01:39PM (#39660913) Journal

      ...any more illegal than...

      This isn't a criminal matter. 'Wrongful death' is civil law.

    • by necro81 (917438)

      But I can't see how it's any more illegal....

      We're not talking about legality here, in the sense that these people have been charged with a crime. They are being sued by a relative of the deceased — big difference.

    • by gatfirls (1315141)
      Tuckwilla is more culpable just for being Tuckwilla. Well throw in a Doubletree hotel and you may as well have pushed the guy.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by morari (1080535)

      Why would anyone want to stop the suicidal anyway? Our planet is vastly over populated and already straining for adequate resources. If someone wants to kill themselves, let them do it. Geeze!

    • May Van Halen should be sued - as VH wrote and sold millions of copies of a song glorifying suicide by jumping. Surely this poor fellow must have been influenced by the popularity of the song.
    • by dbet (1607261) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @02:42PM (#39662273)

      The people involved did a despicable thing.

      Why? If your life is that bad, maybe it's good advice to tell you to end it. No sense being in pain every day. If you have some ideology that every life should be extended as long as possible no matter what, that's fine, but not everyone shares it. Some people's lives suck, and it's theirs to end if they wish.

    • by Jonner (189691) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @02:50PM (#39662469)

      This isn't a criminal charge, but a civil suit. I wouldn't be surprised if shouting "Jump!" at someone on a rooftop could expose one to such liability as well.

    • by g0bshiTe (596213)
      In a mob of 30 it's hard to track down someone who yelled jump vs retrieving the ip of someone who posted as AC.
      • If you yell "jump" near someone who is about to commit suicide, I *guarantee* every person within 20 feet will be looking DIRECTLY at you.
    • by l0ungeb0y (442022)

      The problem I have with this litigation is the detachment of the accused. While they may have made some insensitive, immature and inappropriate comments -- they had no real sense of the situation and behaved much as many other immature and insensitive internet forum users may have acted -- who hasn't seen plenty of posts made in jest saying "Do it faggot!" "AN HERO!"?

      It's hard to know if a post on a forum is made in jest, a troll or is actually the real deal. Expecting everyone to behave and act to every fo

  • Shouldn't be a crime (Score:5, Interesting)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @01:34PM (#39660819)

    On the internet, nobody knows if you are who you say you are. You could really be a depressed person, or you could be a 7 line perl script. You could be talking to a real 15 year old girl, or it could be an FBI agent. Then there's products like Siri, cleverbot, etc., that blur the line even further. But even if that problem could be 'solved', there is no way to know whether an internet identity is a single person or a group.

    So given that identity is not provable online, why should people act like it is? Also, if you don't mod this post +5, I'm going to hang myself with a power cord.

    • How are you going to hang yourself if you only get modded up to +3 or +4?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 12, 2012 @01:37PM (#39660871)

      Also, if you don't mod this post +5, I'm going to hang myself with a power cord.

      Do it! I'll help tie the knot.

      Posting AC so your sister doesn't sue me...

    • by cpu6502 (1960974)

      I think they should be charged as accessories to the death, just as happens if you help a gangster find the address of a guy who owes him money. You didn't do the killing yourself but you did help accomplish the task.

      • by ClintJCL (264898)
        So basically, you think we need more laws, because there are no laws for this. It is a civil matter. No crime was broken.
        • by Jack9 (11421)

          > So basically, you think we need more laws, because there are no laws for this.

          Why would you reach this conclusion? He mentioned the premise (IANAL so I don't know the statute) that this could fall under.

          > It is a civil matter. No crime was .

          Your criteria for uncivil behavior versus criminal activity is pretty extreme. It is not just irresponsible to knowingly state "yeah go ahead and drink that transmission fluid/poison, it's delicious" to an anonymous (potentially a minor or mentally handicapped i

          • by ClintJCL (264898) <clintjcl+slashdot&gmail,com> on Thursday April 12, 2012 @03:02PM (#39662727) Homepage Journal
            Your whole post flies in the face of the fact that no criminal action was taken (because, as I asserted, no law was broken). This is a civil tort. I could sue you right now for your post. I'd lose, but I could. Torts can be done for any reason. Wrongful death being the reason. You could hurt my feelings, I kill myself, sue you for wrongful death. You'd have to pay a lot of money to not lose, too. i'm gonna go do that now {JOKE! JOKE! I'M JOKING!}
            • by ClintJCL (264898)
              Also, it would be pretty hard for me to sue you after killing myself. Will have to find a ghost lawyer...
            • by Jack9 (11421)

              > Your whole post flies in the face of the fact that no criminal action was taken

              I appreciate your understanding of tort law. No charges were filed. There's a distinction to be made between that and no criminal action. The District Attorney (ostensibly his office) has discretion and will often not try cases where theres an element of uncertainty. Everyone wants to get re-elected. In another jurisdiction, the event would have been sufficient for a criminal charge. My assertion is that this is part of a fu

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by SJHillman (1966756)

        So... if you break up with your girlfriend and she jumps off a bridge because of it, then you're an accessory?

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by PenquinCoder (1431871)

          So... if you break up with your girlfriend and she jumps off a bridge because of it, then you're an accessory?

          You may not be, but that Gucci handbag was.

      • by jgtg32a (1173373)
        Citation? That's messed up, the situation in my head is some guy on the street asks me is this Tom Jones' house and I say yes.
    • by matunos (1587263) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @01:47PM (#39661055)

      Legalties aside, if you preserve your own common decency online, then you wouldn't egg on someone to commit suicide, precisely because you *don't* know if they're serious or not.

      • by TheLink (130905)
        It depends. If they haven't had children and they commit suicide there would be fewer people like them. After enough generations there might be significantly fewer suicides for those scenarios. And so many more deaths would be avoided in the long run.

        So the question is whether we really want to select for the trait of "not committing suicide when depressed even when being egged on to suicide".

        We might prefer to reduce the number of people who would egg on suicidal people. That might reduce even more deaths
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 12, 2012 @02:02PM (#39661399)

      On the internet, nobody knows if you are who you say you are.

      This may be more appropriate than you realize. From a Reddit thread:

      I'm sorry but the real troll here is the author of this post. The person in the article is not black_visions.

      Black_visions made that post Friday 03/09/12 at 5:37 UTC. We're being told that he killed himself that night. Yet, the news report says the person committed suicide on the Tuesday the 13th of March at a hotel. The sister says "a little over a month ago." Today is the 11th of March, not yet the one month mark looking the police report with the incident occurring 03/13/12 at 12:42 pm. Case number 12-1762

      Only one man fits the description of the guy in the article: Culver, William M, 51 of Shoreline, March 13 died in King County, WA. The rest of the obits for the area are here.

      Someone pulled this same exact stunt in /r/foreveralone a few months ago. Here was the original post from a guy saying he was going to kill himself. Here is the follow up post from his "sister". It's clearly fake, and I'd be willing to bet it's same troll as the one behind this.

      EDIT: One more thing. Black_visions on a weekend night. The guy who died did it on Tuesday afternoon. That means that if it is the same guy, then the man waited 3 and a half days to kill himself after he made his post. By then the bullying posts were gone- they were deleted that same night by qanan - so unless he took screenshots of the comments as they were made and sent them to his sister, she couldn't have seen them.

      From this thread. [reddit.com]

    • by nurb432 (527695)

      It isn't a crime. Its a civil issue however. Subpoenas happen in civil cases too.

    • So wait.. are you saying that because I don't know if the person I'm talking to is genuinely in distress that gives me the right to make fun of them? There are laws against cyberbullying precisely because of things like this. People are complete assholes on the internet when they think they are safe and anonymous, and they say or do things they would never consider doing in person. I doubt the Reddit posters would stand outside a building and tell a jumper to jump... but when it's just an internet post it's

    • by ckaminski (82854)
      You're right. Wrongful death shouldn't be a crime, civil or criminal. You were either responsible for someone's death, in which case you can be held accountable, or you were not. Being complicit in terms of having the means to stop a death is not necessarily actionable either. To compel me to do something is akin to slavery, which is outlawed in this country (but something the government can do at the point of a gun, wtf?).
  • by gatfirls (1315141) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @01:43PM (#39661005)
    You know it crossed your mind. Don't lie.
  • by Ryxxui (1108965) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @01:43PM (#39661007)
    The article cites a user-made post, not an official statement by reddit. Multiple people on reddit, including comments on the cited SubredditDrama post, have pointed out that there is no hard evidence that
    -Black Visions killed himself
    -Sister of Black Visions is actually Black Vision's sister
    -That there is any subpoena or legal action being pursued
    Get back to me after there's real evidence of any of those things.
  • by tpotus (1856224) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @01:45PM (#39661027)
    His final posts can be read on http://www.reddit.com/r/MensRights/comments/qoixk/a_lot_of_trolls_tonight/ [reddit.com] Looking through it I get the sense that people were trying to reach out and tried to persuade him from killing himself. TFA makes it sound as though everyone was cheering him on. Those few who trolled got severely downvoted. I can't see how reddit nor its users are in any way responsible for his death. Rather seems like his family is out to find a scapegoat. Where were they when he needed help and support?
  • by dmesg0 (1342071) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @02:07PM (#39661525)

    It looks like the guy being sued (AlyoshaV) simply didn't read the post till the end (where the suicide note was), and commented on partial post with some stupid joke.
    Had he read the post till the end, the suit could be avoided (probably not the suicide).

    This should be an important message to all slashdotters: always read all posts in their entirety before commenting. Always RTFA thoroughly till the very end, or you could be the next murderer.

  • If this poor fellow was actually pushed over the brink by a few reddit comments, he was standing awfully close to it. I don't think the commentators should be held culpable since a normal person wouldn't be fazed by such things. Outright harrassment or threats aside, legislating human interaction on that level would be too subjective.
  • Klerck [archive.org] wants his movie plot back!
  • What proof, beyond reasonable doubt, is there that he would not have jumped if those people wouldn't have egged him on? If just a few people wriitng mean things on an Internet forum would cause people to jump from buildings, the Internet would be the primary cause of death and facebook would have been sued bankrupt a long time ago. Unless there is irrefutable proof that these posts have a direct significant relation to the death of this person, there is no damage to be claimed.

    People get depressed and tak
  • Skeptical (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jiro (131519) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @02:27PM (#39661969)

    Comments on Reddit point out that
    -- This has happened before in other places with a fake sister
    -- the suicide was committed by jumping off a building, while the user threatened to commit suicide by shooting himself
    -- the suicide happened several days after the nasty replies were deleted
    -- the user's real name was supposedly Jerry, but the name of the man who killed himself was William.

    Furthermore, carefully reading the Reddit link itself, Reddit has not received a subpoena. Rather, Reddit has been *told by the supposed sister of the user* that they *will be subpoenaed* in the future; at no point does Reddit claim to have actually received the subpoena. As a bonus, the man's supposed sister claims "We were told by our lawyer not to give any other information out such as our full names or the people to be named in the lawsuit", which makes her claims immune to verification.

    It's quite likely that some troll saw a suicide in the newspaper and decided to claim that the suicide was connected when they were really just trolling. Ruling that out would require having the subpoena, not just having a claim that one was sent.

    • by Jiro (131519)

      Oh, and the dead man was 51 years old, which is very unusual for the Reddit demographic.

  • Hah, there's a Turing Test joke in here somewhere, I'm just no that clever....

    Go!

    • "The scandalous wave of creativity following the judges declaring a chatbot winner in a competition after the human test subject hung himself in the keyboard cable led to a much-applauded change in the rules where nastiness was declared not to be a sign of intelligence."
  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @02:36PM (#39662169) Homepage Journal

    By the way, if anyone here is in marketing or advertising...kill yourself. Thank you. Just planting seeds, planting seeds is all I'm doing. No joke here, really. Seriously, kill yourself, you have no rationalisation for what you do, you are Satan's little helpers. Kill yourself, kill yourself, kill yourself now. Now, back to the show. Seriously, I know the marketing people: 'There's gonna be a joke comin' up.' There's no fuckin' joke. Suck a tail pipe, hang yourself...borrow a pistol from an NRA buddy, do something...rid the world of your evil fuckin' presence. -- Bill Hicks

    Thank goodness Bill isn't around to see this sad shit...

  • Nobody should expect any more than this from the site that Reddit has become. I mean, this was a site that for as long as possible allowed child predators and pedophiles to run amok with no regulation or oversight, and then only did something about it when it threatened to become a public relations nightmare. They still allow subreddits about disgusting material to operate in that manner, including one glorifying pictures of dead children.

    Read the comments on there and you'll regularly find people defending

  • by khellendros1984 (792761) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @02:50PM (#39662459) Journal
    If I'm remembering right, you can make a Reddit username by supplying the desired name and a password. Good luck attaching that to an individual person.
  • It's Me Not You (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jimmerz28 (1928616) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:00PM (#39663929)

    Suicide is a personal choice, not anyone else's. I don't see why everyone always tries to blame bullies, commenters, family, etc.

    Regardless of if it's a rational decision or not it's my own choice, just like robbing a bank is my fault.

    Do I get to blame commenters urging me to commit other crimes too?

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