Exactly one week ago I read an article on the News Tribune website. The article said the following:
A possible suicide attempt at the South 48th bridge over Interstate 5 snarled traffic in both directions Friday afternoon.
The individual jumped or fell from the overpass, and was taken to a local hospital, Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said.
The individual’s condition was unknown.
Police were investigating the incident, Cool said.
After some digging I found the identity of the person who jumped and a link to a public shaming video. You can read all about this over at my other site TacomaStories.com. Or you can read about it at Daily Kos or the New York Daily News. In the seven days since I posted the article, my post has been viewed over 250,000 times. (To put that in perspective a busy day on TacomaStories.com previously was 500 people in a day.) Dozens of other news sites have quoted from it. There are over 300 comments before I chose to shut the comments section down. For a while it was trending on Facebook. In short, my post about a young girl killing herself has gone viral.
This has been a fairly educational experience for me. After the first day, I was contacted by three television reporters and one newspaper reporter. They all asked me for information I’d dug up on my own that they just as easily could have dug up. One of them asked me for the victim’s family’s home address, a piece of information I don’t have and wouldn’t share with anyone if I did. All of them asked for a copy of the public shaming video I’d mentioned, but by that time the link I had to it had been taken down. I asked around and eventually found someone who posted it on youtube.
The thing that immediately happens when your post goes viral is that you lose all control of anything except the post itself. I chose not to share the public shaming video on my page. I chose not to include the name of the victim or the names of her family members. I didn’t mention the school she attended. I didn’t mention who originally posted the video online (because I didn’t and still don’t know that). Other websites had no such decorum or respect. In some cases the articles mentioned rumors as facts. In the Jezebel article they incorrectly mention my name as ‘John Cameron’ and say I said things in my original article that I never said.
The Daily Kos article unfortunately cites the Jezebel article. (To its credit, the Jezebel article does link back to my TacomaStories.com article.) The New York Daily News doesn’t cite any other online source at all.
All this attention has resulted in more than a few emails. Some of them are angry and/or threatening. Most of them are thanking me for talking about the issue. I’ve received some emails from the family of the victim. They asked me to shut down the comments section and I agreed. There were also emails from counselors and people who’ve lost someone to suicide and started or joined anti-suicide foundations. I’ve talked to dozens of people I wouldn’t have even known about otherwise.
I’ve also done quite a bit of research on the topics of suicide and public shaming since I posted the article. I’ve learned a lot. And while there’s a part of me that is impressed with all the attention and the conversations about how public shaming is abuse, I would rather it not all have to center around the death of a 13-year-old-girl and the unimaginable pain and hardship her death has caused her friends and family.
I run a website that talks about crime and death among other things so I suppose it’s inevitable that if something went viral, it would involve someone’s death. I have very mixed feelings about that.
Some people have asked me if I’ve received any job offers after all of this attention. I haven’t. And while I wouldn’t mind a new writing gig, I think my feelings on such a thing would be more mixed than ever.
– Jack Cameron