The suicide of Meirav Kanner, known online as Rapunzel, continues to resound through the Israeli blogosphere. Following her death on June 17, there have been calls to define the limits of online discourse in order to minimize harm to the people behind the blogs.
Kanner, who wrote that she had emotional problems as a result of physical abuse suffered as a child, revealed her plight for the first time in 2004 in posts accusing her father of the abuse. She was interviewed by various mass media outlets and began a blog, in which she told her story through her political struggle as a feminist and an emotionally troubled woman. Over the past two years she received warm and sympathetic responses ? as well as hurtful and disparaging ones. Kanner herself did not respond only to the gentler comments, and often conducted stinging verbal fights with surfers.
In the last few weeks of her life, Kanner's emotional state apparently deteriorated, and she hurled harsh accusations at various people, even mentioning their names on her blog. Yariv Habot, the founder and operator of Israelblog, felt compelled to remove her blog from the Internet to avoid the risk of a lawsuit. .
Kanner responded by launching an independent blog with the help of Internet columnist and blogger Hanan Cohen. Kanner declared a hunger strike and continued her verbal assault. After her death, and at her request, Cohen deleted her blog and had it removed from Google's archives. A few days later, however, Kanner's partner restored her blog's archives to the Internet .
The suicide sparked a flood of reactions, discussions and personal accountings in the blogosphere, starting with people who eulogized Kanner with great sadness and ending with others incapable of forgiving the woman who had hurt so many of them.
The most burning question among many of the writers, however, was, "Could we have prevented such a bitter ending?" Leora Arnon, director of Sahar, an Internet-based emotional support service for people with suicidal tendencies and psychologist Yael Doron, manager of support for the Yelem Web site, are uncertain whether anyone could have helped in this specific case. Still, they are convinced that in similar cases help could make a difference.
In the five years since Sahar's founding, Arnon says the organization's volunteers have called the police in more than a dozen cases, and the officers arrived in time to find the would-be victim after he or she had already swallowed pills.
"Suicide notes are posted on the Internet almost daily," says Arnon, but not every such letter ends in suicide. Still, she says, assistance should be offered before the situation becomes critical, so most of Sahar's efforts are invested in listening and offering support and advice.
The death of Kanner, and the hostility that surrounded her blog, sparked a serious discussion of the blogosphere's debate culture. Kanner's case may have been extreme, but it was not unique. The verbal assaults and vitriol often found online have prompted at least some people to withdraw from the arena. Just last week one young blogger, who runs a popular Web diary, announced he was ending his blog.
"You knew this would happen. You knew it. You cursed me and made me feel miserable. There is no point in continuing. I have no reason to," he writes. ?(He later relented in response to encouragement from fans?).
One woman who works in the communications field and is a former blogger says she stopped blogging because she felt the online interaction was hurting her. Still, she says that from the outset she felt that she, like many others, had become addicted to this medium.
"This possibility of receiving immediate feedback on anything that happens is addictive," concurs Habot.
That feedback, explains the former blogger, can lead to extremism.
"You say something and no one responds, so you say it again, stronger," she says. "Suddenly, I realized that everyone wants to express himself and practically no one wants to listen. The blogosphere is a radical version of the real world, and it is a terribly violent and unsafe environment."
She, like others, believes this dynamic contributed to Kanner's suicide.
Doron, of Yelem, disagrees, contending that the Web is nothing more than a reflection of society, and that our society today is very intense and instantaneous. The heated debate over the influence of the Internet is a new extension of the never-ending debate on television ? does it reflect society's violence, or does it create it? Doron cites an article by Sahar's founder, Prof. Azy Barak , in which he explains that the Internet contains addiction, alienation, isolation and violence, but also supportive shoulders, help and a lot of good will.
Culture researcher Carmel Weissman, who is writing her doctoral thesis on blogs, explains that many bloggers do not feel they are publicizing their works and thoughts: They perceive the medium as their personal space. They consider it speaking with friends. These two contradictory spheres ? the private and the public ? coexist in blogs, and the mixture is very confusing.
As noted above, lately there have been calls for the establishment of a convention regulating relationships in the blogosphere . Some prominent voices among them are Uri Katzir, a blogger and spokesman for the Israel Securities Authority; Jonathan Klinger, a lawyer and active Internet contributor; and Sarit Frankel, a journalist .
Frankel even foretells of the blogosphere's demise if the violence is not curtailed.
"There must be some commitment to ground rules, a certain 'gentlemanliness,'" says Katzir. "For example, not humiliating someone publicly online, certainly not before he has been found guilty of wrongdoing. Not that someone who violates the rules would be ostracized, but one could hope for a place in which you accept certain rules of behavior."
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