intellectual vanities… about close to everything

Chat Room Users Urged Suicide – The Cyber Crowd

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BIRMINGHAM, England, March 24

A father-of-two hanged himself live over the internet in Britain’s first ‘cyber suicide’.

Kevin Whitrick, 42, took his life after being goaded by dozens of chatroom users from across the world who initially believed he was play acting.

But as they watched in horror, Mr Whitrick climbed onto a chair, smashed through a ceiling and then hanged himself with a piece of rope.

“He tied a rope around an uncovered ceiling joist and stood on the chair as he tied the rope around his neck,” one anonymous user said of the Internet incident. “Some of us chat room users, talking to Kevin over text chat, microphones and video tried to convince him to step down, but others egged him on telling him to get on with it.”

Friends of the 42-year-old said he had been emotionally strained from the death of his father, a recent car crash and his marriage ending.

The case appears to echo that of Brandon Vedas, a 21 year-old from Phoenix, Arizona, who committed suicide online using a mix of alcohol and prescription medication. In that case people in the chat room egged the young man on, while others tried desperately to find his address.

In “Crowds and Power”, a book published in the early 60s, Elias Canetti, has a lot to say about the times we are living in now, the divisions, the pack mentalities, the fired-up nationalisms, the fierce groupings …

Obviously, one of Canetti’s points is that this crowd-behavior stuff is as old as mankind itself. Perhaps now, though, the questions of WHY have taken on greater urgency. Why? Canetti wrote this book as the Cold War heated up, and as the civilized world tried to deal with the repercussions of the Holocaust – what an industrialized group can do to another. You can feel the anxiety in Canetti’s prose at times.

Canetti studies crowds of all kinds, and dissects how they behave. The crowds who gather in churches, how those crowds are different from the audience at a play, how the audience at a play differs from the audience at a cello concerto – and then he goes further, into a geo-political mode – describing revolutions, crowd mentalities …

Attributes of the Crowd for Canetti are:

* the crowd always wants to grow

* within the crowd, there is equality

* the crowd loves density

* the crowd needs a direction or a common goal

There are a few more issues to be noticed.

DISCHARGE – the catalyst that creates the crowd

ERUPTION – the sudden transition from a closed crowd into an open crowd

PANIC – the disintegration of the crowd within the crowd

OPEN crowd – open to continuous, uninterrupted growth

CLOSED crowd – limited growth in exchange for permanence

STAGNATING crowd – lives for its discharge by deferring it

RHYTHMIC crowd – density & equality coincide, dependent on movement

SLOW crowd – long term goal, as religion

QUICK crowd – short term goal, as in war

INVISIBLE crowd – the dead, future generations, posterity

DOUBLE crowd – exists due to other crowds, as rivals, opponents

By Prevailing Emotion, crowds are classified as:

BAITING crowd – goal & density, as a killing mob or hunting pack

FLIGHT crowd – common threat, as an evacuations

PROHIBITION crowd – refuses what is expected, as a strike

REVERSAL crowd – many meek attack the few fierce, as a revolution

FEAST crowd – abundance in a small space


Crowd psychology does not change with the physical environment of the group in question. Crowds as such react fickle, often irrational and potentially violent. Organisation and rituals may artificially promote solidarity and rhythm. A category that is missing in Canetti’s analysis, naturally, manifests itself tragically for the first time in both mentioned cases of suicide: the CYBER CROWD. It can be observed in both chat communities, and, else, follows the very same rules as physical crowds described by Canetti. As he says: “during the discharge distinctions are thrown off and all feel equal.” Both times those users ushering the victim formed a baiting crowd hungering, not for the “…the naked, smooth, defenseless flesh of the victim” but for it’s digital image.

In 1962 Canetti wrote: “Today everyone takes part in public executions through the newspapers.” In 2007, for the first time, people assisted through interactive means of the WWW to a suicide, which has been unduly called by the Daily Mail a “cyber suicide”. There was nothing “cyber” about the desperate man killing himself. “Cyber” was the baiting crowd in the chat, greeding for his death. And it is hence not less true about the “Cyber Crowd” what Canetti wrote about the baiting crowd of newspaper readers: “…it is the most despicable and, at the same time, most stable form of such a crowd.”


Written by huehueteotl

March 25, 2007 at 2:49 am

2 Responses

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  1. wow, I ran across that story earlier somewhere without the bonus of a comparison to Canetti’s work. Good stuff, thanks


    March 25, 2007 at 3:48 am

  2. […] a group structure with its own dynamism (As Canetti, already in the early 60-ies did emphasize, crowds as such react fickle, often irrational and potentially violent. Organisation and rituals may […]

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