Anyone who reads the comment threads on the average Daily Brew blog posts knows the web can be a pretty cruel place, but an incident last weekend shows some parts are especially dark.
A young man, thought to be Canadian university student, broadcast his suicide attempt online Saturday night, downing pills and booze and setting his residence room on fire.
While the disturbed 20-year-old huddled under his bed and keyed in what he expected were his dying thoughts, some of the 200 people watching egged him on, Postmedia News reported.
A report of the bizarre incident first surfaced on the Daily Dot web site Sunday, Postmedia News said. It apparently began earlier Saturday evening when the man, identified as "Stephen," posted a notice on 4chan, a notoriously freewheeling bulletin board, that he was prepared to kill himself on camera but needed help setting up the broadcast.
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Stephen described himself as a longtime 4chan member, Postmedia News said.
"I thought I would finally give back to the community in the best way possible: I am willing to an hero [commit suicide] on cam for you all. All that I request is for you guys to link me to a site where I am able to stream it for you guys, then I will gladly fulfill my promise."
Lmao dumb ass from Guelph University tries to commit suicide because he wants to give back to the "4Chan Community". Pathetic.
— Ali Rizwan (@A_L_I_Baba) December 2, 2013
According to Daily Dot, another 4chan user set up a video chat room via the web site Chateen, which allows a maximum 200 viewers. Once the chat room was live, Stephen swallowed some unidentified pills and chased them with vodka. He then set a small fire in the corner of his room using a toaster and crawled under his bed, apparently bringing his laptop with him.
“#imdead," he typed, according to Daily Dot. "#omgimonfire."
While some of the 200 viewers – with more clamouring to get into the chat room – urged Stephen to stop, others apparently encouraged him, even suggesting better ways to kill himself, such as dropping the toaster in the bathtub, Postmedia News said.
Others complained the thickening smoke from the fire was obscuring their view and those who couldn't access the video stream demanded frame grabs, according to an account in Britain's MailOnline.
The spectacle ended when firefighters burst into the room, doused the flames and hauled Stephen out.
Stephen's identity has not been revealed but reports suggest the incident took place at the University of Guelph in southern Ontario.
The university issued a statement Sunday about a fire in a residence room that left a 20-year-old student with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
"The University is aware that there is disturbing social media activity circulating about this incident and is urging people not to watch or distribute this hurtful material," the statement said.
An unidentified university spokeswoman told MailOnline it was urging students not to watch or share the video. "We’re trying to take it down but it’s on so many guerrilla sites it’s almost impossible to do that," she said.
I refuse to link to 4chan/Guelph story but, If you need help; call 1-800-273-8255 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. — Steven Sandhoff (@StevenSandhoff) December 2, 2013
A copy of the 40-minute video remains on LiveLeak.
University student-affairs vice president Brenda White also told MailOnline officials had not spoken to the student yet.
"His mom is with him and we may be able to talk to him in the next day or two," said White. "He’s going to be in a fragile state. We’re respecting his privacy and need to recover with the interest it’s a difficult balance.'
The incident has focused attention on 4chan and especially its /b/ Random site, which Postmedia News said is home to some of the web's strangest and most disturbing stuff. Users there quickly dubbed Stephen "Toaster Steve" and some mocked him for not actually dying.
That wasn't the case in 2008, when a 19-year-old Miami man committed suicide with a drug overdose while 1,500 watched online, MailOnline reported at the time. Some viewers, apparently thinking it was hoax, urged him to hurry up.
But amid all the insensitivity and nihilism on the web, there is compassion.
Earlier this year, a New Jersey teen posted on Tumblr that she planned to kill herself over incidents of cyber-bulling. The admission spurred a frantic effort by several people online to try and pinpoint her location, the Huffington Post reported.
A California teen was able to help police trace her via Tumblr posts and tweets. Officers went to the New Jersey girl's home and found her almost unconscious after apparently taking a number of pills.