2004-11-30

Life and Death in the Blogosphere


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"Just to let everyone know, my mother was murdered."
So begins the saga that has bloggers all atwitter. This story is pretty much everywhere by now, but I first caught it at WizBang.

In case you've missed it: 16-yr old Rachelle Waterman of Craig, Alaska coordinated with two 24-yr old men to murder her mother. The story alone is shocking. Waterman was an honor student, played in the band, sang in the chorus and at the time of her mother's murder she was with her volleyball team participating in a tournament in Anchorage. On the surface, you would not expect Rachelle Waterman to be involved in something like this. But then, I guess that by now we are no longer surprised by the surprising.

So, why the blogosphere buzz? Check out Rachelle's blog over at LiveJournal. By all accounts this crime was months in the making, and all the while, Waterman blogged away.

Of direct relevance in the case were her last two entries: First, shortly after state troopers informed her of her mother's death, Waterman blogged briefly about the Anchorage trip; she got a little sick, played volleyball and bought some boots that go abover her knees. She even promised pictures on that last one. That was the extent of her first, post-murder entry - sorrow and remorse were conspicuous by their absence. Later, her final dispatch began with: "Just to let everyone know, my mother was murdered," chilling in its indifference. It went on to mention that the police had confiscated her computer and she wouldn't be able to blog for a while. Nothing further.

Unfortunately, her last block of entries were taken down. Rumor has it that other bloggers archived the whole thing, so who knows? It may all be out there somewhere. At LJ you can still read everything up to Nov 4.

As word of this case spread, the curious flocked to Waterman's blog, sub-titled "My Crappy Life: The Inside Look of an Insane Person." Before its removal, her final entry had logged 5000 comments, LiveJournal's maximum.

As I perused her full blog last night, my thoughts moved in two basic directions: 1. What I learned about Rachelle and 2. What I learned, or perhaps remembered about the blogosphere.

Waterman was troubled ... or was she? Obviously, it is fascinating to read back over Waterman's writings knowing that all the while mischief was brewing. Rachelle paints a grim picture of a mother who called her "fat," and deprived her of food at times. However, one of the more collected and rational comments observed that until a few months ago, when the murder plan was allegedly hatched, Rachelle displayed the thinking of a typically self-centered teen with occasional but not abnormal parental friction.

So, were the "details" of her mom's severity simply posturing on Waterman's part? Did she begin building her defense that early in the game?

One sure thing: mixed within Waterman's blog are shades of a troubled soul. From her indifferent response to the loss of her mother, to the blog's title, to the occasional self-destructive or other-destructive fantasy, one is tempted to think, "This is not your average honor student," or even, "How did someone not see this coming?" This brings me to my second avenue of thought ...

The blogosphere hosts plenty of Rachelle Watermans. Much of my blog-surfing time is spent on reputable sites written by talented, and sometimes professional authors, commenting on the news of the day. Actually, such blogs are in the minority. For each of these blogs, there are hundreds of sites that boast a less refined, darker, and more brooding outlook.

This is not surprising as there are very few obstacles to blogging. All it takes is access to a computer with an internet connectiont. Anyone can blog, and hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions do. Little wonder that the blogosphere has come to resemble and reflect modern society. In short, there are some crazy people out there, and a lot of them blog!

Unfortunately, it's not unusual to find a teen over-exaggerating the "cruelty" of parents and complaining that their life is hell. The medium may be relatively new, but the message is age-old.

As for the lunatic fringe, it has found Waterman's site. Again, prior to its removal, her last post had gathered 5000 comments. And very few of those comments had anything to do with her post or the murder case. The milder comments were simply and briefly, "Woot! I'm posting at a famous website," proclamations. But there were also plenty of porno and violent graphics and vile language.

Again, the ubiquitousness of the blog medium means that lacking a message or lacking a constructive message isn't going to stop someone from participating in the discussion. This is true at Waterman's site, and it's true on the web as a whole. Browse the message boards attached to any major news story on Yahoo! if you ever want a taste of the kind of inanity residing in the virtual world.

The problem is, those authors whose stated violent, destructve fantasies are a true expression of the impulses at war within them are obscured by the multitude of harmless authors who express similar ideas simply because they don't know or can't do any better.

Technology is a two-edged sword. Crazy talk is so prevalent, one can hardly take it seriously. Yet, as more Waterman cases emerge, and rest assured there will be more, will it be possible to ignore the insanity?

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