“I wanted to show that teens aren’t invincible and that the consequences for not using their heads don’t just affect themselves, but friends and family members,” emails MyDeathSpace founder Mike Patterson, who titles his personal LJ account “Internet Legend (In the Making).” A student at St. Mary’s College of California, Patterson writes, “The community and the Web site are a memorial to those who have died.”
Maybe so, but the community’s tag line is “Myspace Deaths! We need to cut back anyway.” Patterson admits that the slogan “seems fairly insensitive, but it helps lessen the seriousness and degree of morbidity on which the community thrives.” LiveJournal won’t allow MyDeathSpace to use last names or to host photos of the deceased, so Patterson instead posts skull graphics that are ornamented with cartoon-y, rebus-style cause-of-death icons. Those same “death icons” are also on the companion Web site, MyDeathSpace.com, along with actual users’ photos, but Patterson says he’s planning to remove them so “we can be approved for advertising.”
The dark side
Of course, things can get nasty when people sit for hours in front of an anonymous monitor with the world arrayed before them. Consider the posthumous e-celebrity of Josh Ballard, which began with a menacing MySpace bulletin. On November 29, the pale-skinned, moppy-haired 17-year-old who had employed the handle “you BROKE my LIFE” posted the site’s equivalent of a mass mailing, time stamped 8:14 am PST and titled “do me a favore . . . ” It listed an address in Mission Viejo, California; implored readers to “call the police”; and added “tell them to go down the hall to the bathrooom. im soo sorry.” The Orange County sheriff’s office confirms that Ballard shot himself not long after posting the note.
After news of the high-school student’s e–suicide note spread, the comment section of his page quickly grew with forlorn testimonials, sorrowful good-byes, and confessions of love. “wish i believed u wen you told me that you were really going to do this,” wrote one poster. Another added, “this could of ben stoped/all the people that knew didnt do shit/i had a good time with u in ceramics.”
In the ensuing days, Ballard’s MySpace page spread everywhere, with links landing on countless message boards. On YTMND.com, a site known for its often ruthless online parodies based on Sean Connery’s line in the 2000 film Finding Forrester, “You’re the man now, dog,” the suicide communiqué became an Internet meme. The cyber-anonymous mocked Ballard’s final letter, hurling epithets in his memory (“a selfish prick, a dumbass, and a tool”), and criticized his slapdash 11th-hour spelling. YTMND users even created wallpapered Web pages with animations of Ballard ending his life against blaring soundtracks of A Simple Plan’s drunk-driving-fatality ode, “Untitled (How Could This Happen to Me?)”
“YTMND is ridiculous,” writes “im a CREEPª,” a 17-year-old Orange County female MySpace user who knew Josh well and has been targeted for Josh-related YTMND attacks. “They destroyed who he was on their lil website pages and made a joke of his pain.”