Death is not the end
“There is nothing in the world to which every man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person.”
—Schopenhauer, On Suicide
Last year, the online world was surprised by two applications. They didn't offer faster, deeper or richer ways to engage, update or collaborate with other people. Quite the contrary! They encouraged users to liberate themselves from their needy, over-consuming virtual identities and jump back to the world of flesh meetings, slow readings and the realities of unpokeability by committing ritual online suicide.
As the Seppuku restores samurai’s honor as a warrior, in the same way, Seppukoo.com deals with the liberation of the digital body from any identity constriction in order to help people discover what happens after their virtual life and to rediscover the importance of being anyone, instead of pretending to be someone. [Seppukoo.com]
This machine lets you delete all your energy sucking social-networking profiles, kill your fake virtual friends, and completely do away with your Web2.0 alterego. [Web 2.0 Suicide Machine]
The artist behind Seppukoo offered an artisan service; if you gave him your name and password, he would do the job for you, but The hackers behind the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine automatized it, turning a philosophical joke into a tool of insurrection. After more than a thousand ritual suicides, both sites received a cease and desist letter from Facebook’s legal adviser, who accused them of asking other users to share their login data, entering other people's accounts, collecting other user's information, spamming and using Facebook’s Intellectual Property without permission.
Seppukoo.com terminated its activities. The Web 2.0 Suicide Machine didn't, and it was consequently blocked from accessing Facebook accounts, along with all the project team members. That didn't stop them for long; the case had already made it to the newspapers and, while the service was often unavailable, it was not due to Facebook but by the waves of suicides hitting their server.
Do we diminish, trying to erase, suppress, repress the mythological in our cultural environment? Does it not re-appear in myths of hacking, sharing, collaborating? What is mythological about these practices?
Curiously enough, all but one of these accusations refer to Facebook’s own Statements of Rights and Responsibility. The Copyright infringement could possibly hold water, though it could also be protected under the Fair use for parody, “the use of some elements of a prior author's composition to create a new one that, at least in part, comments on that author's works.” But Facebook claimed both websites were breaching the end user agreement, and they were no user. If someone had breached that contract, it was the Facebook suicides who “shared your password, let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account”. Why were the websites held responsible for other people's 2.0 crimes?
Fight for your right to die
”When you deactivate your account, no one can see your profile, but your information is saved in case you decide to reactivate later,” the company told the newspaper. As it turns out, suicide is not a crime in Facebook, as it is in most western countries. The company would be quite reluctant to sue their ex-users for terminating their relationship with them, but it is entitled to make it difficult. “Users rely on us to protect their data and enforce the privacy decisions they make on Facebook -their spokesman insists.- We take this trust seriously and work aggressively to protect it”. Even against their will.
The very real crime committed by the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine is facilitating and encouraging the means for suicide, an option that many users might have never thought about and that would take them quite a while to accomplish on their own.
With their help, dying can be like this: you choose the community you want to leave -MySpace, Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter-, give them your user name and login password, and everything in it, friends, connections, tweets, favorite, photos, will disappear. The only remaining sign of your 2.0 existence will be an empty profile with no more data than your last words: your grave. And there is no way back.
“Seamless connectivity and rich social experience offered by web 2.0 companies are the very antithesis of human freedom”, explained the Suicide Machine spokesman in an interview to the BBC. A life owned by a dot.com company is not worth living, specially at the cost of the real one. Facebook friends are not real friends, and Facebook suicide is not really dying, but if we put together the hours dedicate to befriending, connecting, introducing, banning, integrating, supporting, comparing and managing their social lives, some would agree that virtual existence is rendering the real one empty, without giving much back.
The right to life is an inalienable right inherent in us by virtue of our existence, but the right to live in a server owned and regulated by an online corporation is a different thing. Why sacrifice one for the other? In getafirstlife.com (2006), artist Darren Barefoot argued for living IRL: “Go Outside. Membership is Free”. Sepukoo and the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine have reversed the 2.0 obsession of belonging back to the right and the need to be one's own, “disconnecting people from each other and transforming the individual suicide experience into an exciting social experience”.
The ritual itself is essential, as it stands as a gesture of independence from the platform, the community and the commercial interests of the big company behind it. Historically, user content based websites have been naturally reluctant to let their users go. Disappointed users got used to abandoning their virtual egos in a limbo of non-updated ghost user accounts. Limitations on Removal and clauses about uncontrollable and eternal Backup servers are common part of the EULA terms. Ghost status is not enough, as the suicide assistants remind us. You have to pull yourself away from the network entirely. Like all good collaborations you have to have the right to walk away and leave nothing behind.