'Text suicide' case shows China, US share online regulation interests

By Liu Jianxi Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/18 23:33:39

Words used to kill teen show need for online regulation

American Michelle Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for urging her then-boyfriend Conrad Roy to commit suicide via text messages, and may face up to 20 years in jail. The trial attracted a great deal of attention from the Chinese media and netizens, with many pictures posted on one of China's largest Web portals, sina.com.

According to investigations, Carter told Roy "all you have to do is turn the generator on and you will be free and happy" when the young man was attempting to kill himself with carbon monoxide in his car. Carter later instructed Roy to get back in the vehicle when Roy had a change of heart, and listened to him die without alerting any rescuers. The court found that Carter's conduct "caused the death of Mr Roy."

The verdict has sparked a public uproar in the US. As Carter wasn't present and didn't provide tools for the killing, many legal scholars believe the case doesn't fall within the classic pattern of manslaughter. The case suggests that words alone could kill, and the real significance of the verdict is stretching liability for security risks to remote communications.

Most Chinese netizens approve the verdict, and some want to draw attention to online suicide challenges that could be easily taken advantage of by people with ulterior motives to incite similar crimes.

The 21st century is marked by huge leaps in cyber development, and this means texting, social media and other hi-tech communication channels could become a tool for committing murder. Apparently, the law must keep pace with the times.

Despite the US' advocacy for freedom of speech, Carter's case clearly suggests that we must set boundaries for freedom of speech. The verdict means legal liability is extending to texting, words and other online speech in the US, and this is worth applauding. Some argue that the 20-year sentence is too harsh for Carter. How the defendant will be punished is within the US' domestic affairs, but it's clear that freedom of speech should fall within the legal framework.

Online speech has extraordinary consequences - sometimes death, and those who post it must be held liable. Some Americans always denounce China over its regulations on online speech, and it seems spreading rumors irresponsibly is allowed in the US. However, the US is now seeing trouble in this regard. If the country continues to turn a blind eye to malicious online speech and similar "texting" suicide cases, more people could be taken advantage of by terrorists, radical religious groups and other anti-social extremists. Regulating online speech benefits social stability, and China and the US have common interests in this regard.

Newspaper headline: Words used to kill teen show need for online regulation

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