It was bound to happen. Somewhere, sometime, somehow our disquieting voyeurism would marry our spreading sickness for self-aggrandizement to produce tragedy. Narcissism and hate — as well as true and desperate pain — has found a megaphone to shout:
Look at me! Look at me now!
The latest tragedy happened here in Miami, an event that brought me nearly to tears when I first read about it. A 14-year-old foster girl live streamed her suicide on Facebook Live. If a louder, more poignant plea for help and simple human attention exists, I’ve not heard of it. A Facebook exchange shows the child’s terrible anguish: “Would you like me more dead??” and “I dont wanna live no more.”
Nakia Venant broadcast from the bathroom of her Miami Gardens foster home for two hours. She fashioned a homemade noose from her scarf and tied it to a “shower-glass door frame” to end her life at around 3:03 a.m. Both the Florida Department of Children & Families and the Miami Gardens Police Department are investigating the suicide of a girl described as “petite … with long hair and a sweet smile.” But who will investigate our growing fetish to broadcast terrible moments to a world that seems to be increasingly inured to privacy, to sorrow, to misery? Who will stand tall against this strange belief that no act is real until it’s recorded on social media?
Nakia’s suicide wasn’t the first one live streamed on the Facebook feature that is less than a year old. Three weeks earlier, 12-year-old Katelyn Nicole Davis of Cedartown, Georgia, also killed herself while live streaming during 40 horrifying minutes. Relatives took down the post, but viewers, who had saved versions of the live video, posted it elsewhere — adding outrage to heartache. And while much hand-wringing occurred over the internet’s power to keep broadcasting such scenes, little was written about the epidemic of suicide or the hopelessness these two young girls surely must’ve felt.
There’s something eerily askew in making death entertainment, something that cries out for rescue and reassurance, particularly when the end of life is self-inflicted. But it’s not just children looking for a platform to express emotions that are overwhelming and destructive. Jay Bowdy, a 34-year-old aspiring actor, also took his own life on Facebook Live, and two other suicide attempts — one in France, the other in Thailand — were prevented when viewers alerted police.
For all their techy appeal, these live-stream features have allowed us to show off our worst selves, perhaps in hope of viral attention, perhaps, quite simply, because we are a society that increasingly favors style over substance, the one-dimensional over nuance. Sadly, as we hold up the collective mirror, it’s not a handsome visage smiling back at us.
Earlier this year, four young adults were charged with hate crimes after kidnapping and torturing a mentally disabled man in Chicago. It was captured, stupidly enough, during a half-hour video live streamed for … for who the heck knows the reason. To show off? To taunt cops? To make the perps feel powerful and important? In Sweden, three men were arrested after reportedly live streaming their gang rape, and an 18-year-old Ohio mother was charged with a third-degree felony after she live streamed her crying toddler taped to a wall. A TV station alerted the police to the Facebook Live video, in which the mother can be heard saying, “You can’t clean without them running around tearing up? Tape them to the wall. You can’t cook ... because they’re running around? Tape them to the wall.”
Facebook touts its feature as the new, trendy place to show friends what you’re up to. But if these examples are any indication, whatever we’re “up to” doesn’t seem to be particularly happy or humane. We’re instead bragging, boasting, swaggering, flaunting — and suffering — without truly connecting to each other at any level.