Live stream: New age crime scene

Below article was published in Sunday Times of India on 21st October 2018.


Today, people have two identities—their real self, and social media personality. Social media has become so much a part of our lives that we longer get on it, but we live there. That’s quite a statement to make and if you read carefully, you’ll realise the truth in it. Today, with social media popularity becoming so important for people, sometimes they do things that are reckless, and the worst part is, even though it is noticed by many, it is stopped by hardly any- one.
If you type the words ‘suicide live stream’ into your search engine, you’ll be flooded with about
6, 47, 00,000 results in just 0.47 seconds. The screen will be flashed with headlines such as ‘Agra youth live-streams suicide, 2,750 people watch but don’t Help’, ‘Teen live- streams her suicide’, ‘After fight with wife, 28-yr-old Gurgaon man live-streams suicide’, and so on.
The list just keeps getting longer and more disturbing. Pause for a few seconds and think. If the number of results on typing such words is so high, then obviously this is happening a lot.
Mrugank Patel, a psychotherapist and an applied suicide intervention skills trained professional, says, “The number of internet users worldwide in 2018 is 3.196 billion,which is almost half of humankind. The live streaming service has made it easy for people to share and consume daily lives of strangers. As humans evolve and adopt technology, the means of communication is also changing. In olden days, people used to write notes before committing suicide. After that came social media messages and forums. Most of the young people spend more time in the virtual world than real. Suicide notes and messages are showing that the world has failed to provide help to the victim. Ending your own life traumatises the victim, and live stream option enables a person to shock more people and gain sympathy. Live-streaming can be seen as cry for help as well. The victim wants someone to stop him/her.”
Earlier, crime scenes used to be public places, decrepit buildings, hidden gallis, hotel rooms and even people’s own homes sometimes. However, this new crime scene – a live stream online – is baffling and perplexing. In 2008, a 19-year-old boy overdosed on prescription

FAST FACT

In the age group of 15-24, suicide is the second leading cause of death, as per reports. This generation is one that lives a huge part of their life online, so it’s not surprising when they use social media to express their darkest thoughts. The platform lets people connect with million others and yet, you could be screaming for help, with nobody listening or taking you seriously drugs and live streamed it on an internet forum. He was the first one to broadcast his death online, and more was yet to come. Eight years after the incident, there were reports of other teenagers doing the same.
For people today, validation on social media has become much more important than enjoying what they do in real life. Whatever they do, whatever they eat, who- ever they hang out with, capturing those moments and seeking validation for those pictures has become more important than enjoying that time. However, when they start seeking validation for the negative things, that’s where the problem arises. Taking your own life is a drastic step, and what is it that is driving these people to do it on- line, in the presence of hundreds and thousands of viewers?
Experts have said that the reasons behind this come from a whole range of complicated factors. Sometimes, it may be an attempt to draw attention to a message they may be trying to convey.
Reena Sharma, a forensic psychologist and founder of a Gandhinagar- based centre that provides a range of psychological therapies, says, “There are numerous reasons behind live-streaming of suicides. There are people who connect to other people only through social media because they feel a sense of security and confidence unlike personal meetings. Hence in such cases, people can tell their story, even if the method is vivid and irreversible. In that moment, they feel extremely powerful in the sense that they want to tell their story in that brief moment and commit themselves to something before
the weakness overshadows them. Committing suicide doesn’t give one power, but when doing something like this, people think they are powerful when they actually aren’t. Some people want to prove a point whereas sometimes people want to make a statement with their suicide and they feel live- steaming it will boost it.”
In the age group of 15-24, suicide is the second leading cause of death, as per reports. This generation is one that lives a huge part of their life online, so it’s not surprising when they use social media to express their darkest thoughts. The platform lets people connect with million others and yet, you could be screaming for help, with nobody listening or taking you seriously. A primary concern with suicide or self-harm videos is that they may normalise and reinforce self- injurious behaviours. Says Sushma Jain, a psychologist and founder of centre of psychology, “When there are more such videos being posted and suicides being live-streamed, it will only encourage others to do this more often. Such live streams may also send across an indirect message that if you can’t garner attention in any other way, then this is the means.”
According to experts, when people view suicidal acts online and don’t do anything about it, it can be compared to the bystander effect, a social psychological phenomenon in which individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when other people are present. This bystander effect can be compared to a situation where someone is getting beaten up on the road and there are people gathered around just watching and doing nothing. Talking about the same, Patel says, “Most of the time, viewers who watch someone committing suicide on a live stream, are not aware of the location of the victim. Also, they try to avoid the implications of legal procedures and interviews if they alert authorities. People will think someone else might inform or stop the crime. The bystander effect is often noticed here.”
Talking about the lack of empathy shown by viewers, Jain says, “Today, everyone is very materialistic and there’s this ‘what-do-I- care’ attitude among people. They no longer care about what’s happening to anyone else because it’s none of their concern. Also, everyone is in pain, so they don’t bother about another person’s suffering.” Adds Sharma, “People watch with amazement, some consider it as a prank and don’t take it seriously. For some it’s shocking. However, it’s important to understand that no matter what the situation, one must take proper steps and be a responsible citizen.”
In such a scenario, however, what can be done is, increasing awareness about mental health. As a society, we need to provide support to those who need help. Talking about what else can be done to prevent such horrific incidents from recurring, Sharma says, “Proper awareness and education must be given in every segment of society, be it in offices, schools or colleges, to prevent suicide. Communities must have psychological cells where people can talk freely about their fears or personality issues rather than sharing them on social media and taking drastic steps such as this. Awareness on the stigma of mental health and suicide must be carried out more frequently.”
While technology is a great boon that helps smoothen our lives, it has another side to it, one that can be misused to one’s disadvantage. Talking about the same, Patel says, “Every technological advancement can be misused. Educating users about best practices is one way of reducing the impact. Also, the people who create these tools need to employ strategies to stop this. Technology is like a sword. It can be used to protect someone or harm someone. Social media is a beast you cannot tame.”
If social currency, that is the number of ‘likes’, is a pivotal measure for today’s youths’ self-esteem, then hanging themselves or jumping off a building or overdosing on pills could seem no more than the equivalent of exiting the world of virtual reality.

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Mrugank Patel
mrugank.patel@gmail.com