it brings on many changes

Andy Warhol's 1963 screen-print, Suicide

Our first issue for discussion is titled "Motivational Posters".  Each issue is credited to a nation, not an explicit person; today's was written by The Starhold of Omakhandia, and edited by Gnejs.  Most issue titles are puns, and "Motivational Posters" is no exception: I've been asked to choose sides regarding a recent legal decision on compelled suicide.

A man was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter yesterday. Over an extended period, he encouraged his online acquaintance - who suffered from depression - to end his own life, which he subsequently did.

Wow are there are a lot of issues to untangle here.  I see suicide, the encouragement thereof, mental health and the quality thereof in both the deceased and the litigant, the litigant's awareness of the decedent's depression, the legality of suicide (with or without encouragement) in both the mentally healthy and ill, burdens of proof, and the cultural/moral/ethical angles on suicide as held by me (Dear Leader) and/or the citizenry.  All this doesn't even take into account what assumptions the issue makes and the knowledge I simply don't have: what kind of trial—if any—was held, whether it was a judicially- or jury-decided verdict, whether Bodetesence has a death penalty and if it comes into play here, and probably dozens of other assumptions I may be making that are so ingrained that I can't even distinguish them.

Legally-speaking, at least in the United States, manslaughter is "a common-law legal term for homicide considered by law as less culpable than murder."  The litigant was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, one type of which is criminally negligent manslaughter, "where death results from serious negligence, or, in some jurisdictions, serious recklessness."  Now, I've been living on the internet for nigh 24 years, and with the exception of a few people on some recent platforms, it's a world of assumed anonymity.  If it could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the litigant even knew that another human being was on the other end of the chat, much less on with a history of mental illness, then yes, there's a case for manslaughter.  However, the trial couldn't have made that case because they convicted on involuntary manslaughter.

As I am lord and master of all I survey, I allow the capricious whims of my deranged brain to determine on what bases I will decide an issue's fate.  However, my whims are restricted to the options laid out before me by my in-game advisers and cabinet, the people's representatives, (frequently) nepotism, and passers-by.

Option 1

‘If this man can be put on trial for his words alone, what’s next?’ queries one of your younger advisors, texting you from a seminar on meme ethics. ‘We shouldn’t be in the business of policing what people can and can’t say. Yes, he’s a terrible, terrible person; I mean, who does that, seriously? But this is much bigger than him. I urge you to pardon this man immediately, and promote true freedom of speech and expression.’

Was he tried for his words alone?  He kinda was.  I don't agree with the anarchic fervor of my adviser here, but yes, the internet is a place of unprovable identities, anonymity, and artificial intelligences.  Unless proven otherwise (and the given scenario says nothing otherwise), that the litigant's online path happened to intersect with that of the decadent's is highly coincidental and doesn't rise to the level of a crime.

Option 2

‘We can’t have people pushing others to suicide and getting away with it,’ calmly states your former Minister of Homeland Insecurities, who has taken up a career as an anti-cyberbullying activist. ‘Is it not our responsibility - as a society - to protect impressionable and vulnerable people? Now, if you ask me, this man is not some sadistic monster, but he, and others like him, need to learn that actions have consequences. Let him face his punishment, and divert some funding to provide for a national awareness program teaching people that their words actually carry weight.’

The first tweet listed under a Twitter search for the hashtag #killyourself says, "Life is simple Suicide is simpler #Killyourself"  If it can be shown that a suicide was exposed to this message, are we to find "Anuj" and try them in that person's death?  Secondly, is it our responsibility to protect the vulnerable?  Yes, but protection is a predecessor to acts, a vaccine to the disease of such dangerous external influences; as an ex postfacto discussion, this panacea is a non-sequitur.  As to whether actions have consequences, how many times per minute does this exact action have no consequences?  Driving safely under the speed limit on a wet road sometimes has equally fatal consequences, but we do not try those drivers unless we can prove they should have reasonably acted differently.

Option 3

‘Obviously, both of these people were severely disturbed, and we all know what got them there,’ asserts your chronically under-stimulated Minister for Medieval Fairs, clad in motley, as is his custom. ‘If anything, this is a wake-up call. Bodetesence needs to get rid of the internet altogether. Newfangled communications methods, with their instantaneity, clearly desensitize people and can make a troll out of the best of us. Not the 6 hit dice regenerating kind, mind you, the other sort. With the internet gone, people will have the time to truly reflect on their words, and nothing like this will ever happen again. Truly, it’s a small price to pay for the well-being of our nation.’

Maybe he missed the part where "I've been living on the internet for nigh 24 years".


I, your river, do hereby make the following proclamation:

Without evidence to the contrary, lacking malice aforethought, otherwise-protected free speech retains these protections even in the face of unintended, otherwise-criminal consequences.

This is my word, and as such is beyond contestation.

The Talking Point: Internet trolls are considered valiant supporters of the right to free speech.

Reclassification: Bodetesence's Civil Rights rose from Below Average to Average.

Recent Headlines: "Civil Rights Activists: Now We’re Getting Somewhere", "Group Returning Home From Natural Disaster Struck By Second Natural Disaster", "Naked People Protesting Something Again", and "School Bans Chess As 'Too Passive'"

Recent Trends (of greater than single-digit changes):

  • Civil Rights (as measured in Martin Luther King, Jr. Units) are up 15.1%.
  • Nudity (as measured in Cheeks Per Square Mile) is up 14.0%.
  • Intelligence (as measured in Quips Per Hour) is up 10.7%.
  • Authoritarianism (as measured in milliStalins) is down 14.5%.
  • Employment (as measured in Workforce Participation Rate) is down 18.7%.