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6/22/2006

News

THE BIG LOGOFF
What happens to MySpace.com members when they die? They live on at MyDeathSpace.com

 

Thanks to a spinoff of one of the most popular sites on the web, people can live on, even after the big logoff.

MyDeathSpace.com archives news articles, obituaries, blogs and links to the profiles of MySpace.com members who have died. To date, there are about 300 dead people noted on the site, with a few more added daily. Everything else has made the transition to the digital age — why not rubbernecking?

MyDeathSpace was created by San Franciscan Mike Patterson in December and has no affiliation with MySpace. Deaths are submitted to the site, usually by a family member or friend. It’s an “opportunity to pay your respects and tributes to the recently deceased MySpace.com members …,” according to the site’s home page.

And many times the site serves as a virtual space to do just that: pay homage to a friend, loved one or acquaintance who has passed.

But this is the Internet, and — believe it or not — not everyone is cordial in cyberspace. Plus, comments can be made anonymously, which serves to embolden those who tend toward nastiness anyway.

Comments left about Jason Ackerman and Sara Rydman, for example, two 21-year-old college students who died after crawling inside a large helium balloon in Lutz, Fla., include one left by a poster named “James” saying, “Truly hilarious! One of the funniest deaths — EVER! I live in the Tampa area and this is bizarre, even by our low standards. Thinning a very stupid herd. It will be hard to top these deaths.”

Family members can e-mail Patterson to request that their loved one be taken off the site. But many times the person’s family isn’t aware that he or she is listed on MyDeathSpace. Brittney Cason, a friend of Ackerman’s, had no idea he was featured on the site or that it even existed.

“It seems to be not an attempt to honor those who have passed, but to tell people the stories of how they died, somewhat seemingly for entertainment purposes,” Cason says. “I don’t like the idea at all, and hopefully someone with more authority over it can take him off.”

MyDeathSpace also provides a link to both Ackerman’s and Rydman’s MySpace pages, both of which have become a memorial where their friends can pay tribute to them by leaving notes on their profiles. It’s unsettling to read the “so long” messages that have been left on Ackerman’s page, the same place he once wrote, “Finally 21 … Currently a junior at USF, I work hard and I play harder … I’m always down to have a good time, funny, smart, cute, but those are all self proclaimed.”

On Ackerman’s still-active profile, his friend Olivia writes, “Hey shorty. We’re all going to miss ya =( Rest in peace…xoxo”

She too had never heard of MyDeathSpace before Ackerman died, but likes the concept.

“It is a great way to remember him,” says Olivia, who did not give her last name. “It’s something you just don’t want to let go because they will always be your friend.”

Other Florida residents listed on MyDeathSpace include Jason Pires, 22, who died after a car accident in Sanford in May, and Land O’Lakes resident Shaun McCarthy, 22, who fell from a fifth-floor balcony while intoxicated last year. There were no offensive comments made about their deaths; there were actually no comments at all made about their deaths. Which is worse: anonymous strangers leaving questionable comments or no one saying anything at all?

Annmarie Campbell, the 23-year-old who made news around the world when she was attacked and killed by an alligator in May while snorkeling in a spring in the Ocala National Forest, is posted as death No. 223 on the site. MyDeathSpace includes a link to her still-active blog, where you can find this eerily prescient post dated Feb. 20: “just another manic monday?

“Last night I had a horrible dream that there was a growing pain in my lower side. The dream started out as a pleasant morning conversation with Evan. I was so excited to be near him again and we were spending time my favorite way — in bed. Although I was enjoying myself, there was a touch of anxiety. It prevented me from pausing in my dialogue (or was it a monologue).

“Then, the pain grew sharper. Soon it was so uncomfortable, I asked Evan to stop (somehow I figured out he was doing it). He refused, so I tried to go back to ignoring it. Unfortunately, it had gotten worse and I started to wonder if my skin was being punctured. Then the pain became so powerful, I stopped talking — all I could do was focus on it’s intensity. Shortly, it changed from merely uncomfortable to intolerable. I tried to scream out or curse to make it stop, but I found I was paralyzed with horror.

“The dream ended a second later, when I woke myself up. I rubbed my side immediately, but there was nothing there to cause the sensation in the dream. It still throbbed a moment more. I had to fully wake up to recognize it wasn’t real.

“This seems like the sort of dream one can read into as a metaphor for some trouble in their life. When I thought of this at first, I tried to push any analysis out of my mind. The pain could stand for a number of things. What’s scary is that not facing the pain was one of the pitfalls I had in the dream.

“I think the best thing I could do with myself right now is go swimming.”

MyDeathSpace’s ubiquitous advertising is a knock against it; critics say it brings up the ethical question of whether a site should be sensationalizing and capitalizing on death.

“Having to read an obituary with a banner on one side, and idiotic Internet comments on the other, is the complete bastardization and banalization of death,” says a person who commented on MyDeathSpace using the screen name “Damn.” “This site shows anything but respect to the people that died. This site, its owners, the people who enjoy it and especially its ‘sponsors’, make me sick.”

Love it or hate it, MyDeathSpace does serve as a caution. There are a lot of young, dead people there. And if you peruse the site long enough, you realize that a lot of those young people died in car crashes, from drug overdoses and from suicides.

“There are many, many deaths on this site that have occurred unnaturally and much too soon,” a poster named “Daisy” comments. “I’ll tell you one thing; it sure makes me think twice about drinking and driving. It’s a good way to remember someone as they were in life, and not as they died.”

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