In a striking display of the power of live video, Abraham K. Biggs committed suicide on Wednesday while broadcasting himself on video site Justin.tv. As we understand it from various forum posts, the 19-year-old Floridian was apparently egged on by commenters on Justin.tv and fellow forum users on bodybuilding.com. Biggs overdosed on pills while on camera and appeared to be breathing for hours until watchers realized he might be serious, at which point they alerted the police. The video kept running until police and EMTs broke Biggs’ door down and blocked the camera’s view.
We confirmed Biggs’ death with the Broward County medical examiner. The Justin.tv video and many of the forum posts have been taken down.
When asked about the broadcast via email, Justin.tv CEO Michael Seibel said:
We won’t post the disturbing content here, but much of it is still online. Images of the broadcast have been posted here and here, and there’s also a suicide note from Biggs, who went by the screenname CandyJunkie. An account of forum users watching the broadcast and calling the police is here. There are also rest-in-peace comments on what appears to be Biggs’ MySpace page. The Justin.tv broadcast used to be here.
And it’s not as if technology enabled the taking of a life, or as if this hasn’t happened before. A British man hung himself last year after allegedly being goaded on by fellow users on Paltalk, another live video site. There was even a widely distributed movie on the topic of live-streamed killings released earlier this year called Untraceable. But last night’s incident raises a thought-provoking question regarding free hosting of live broadcasts — what could sites like Justin.tv possibly do to prevent live-streamed snuff films?
Justin.tv has already come under fire for another problem with live broadcasts — copyright infringement. The Premier League is reportedly threatening legal action against the site over unauthorized broadcasts of soccer games. Justin.tv, which is a free service, has maintained it complies with takedown requests according to the law — but with live broadcasts, the key event often ends before lawyers can get involved. Or in Biggs’ case, before people who care about him could get through.