Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Compounding tragedy

The Fay family was waiting for their comatose daughter to expire this weekend when an anonymous person decided to add to their misery. Using an article posted on The Saratogian’s Web site, the nameless online denizen decided to weigh in on the situation.

“I hope she dies,” the poster wrote, clearly without thinking too much about the impact of those four seemingly innocuous words as they traveled through cyberspace.

Just a day earlier, 30-year-old Erin Fay was driving down Jones Road when she hit a patch of ice. Her Subaru Forester careened off the road, plowed through a snow bank and hit a tree. The young woman was mortally injured. Doctors indicated she was brain-dead and would never recover. The Fays made the gut-wrenching decision to remove her from life support so at least someone could benefit from her healthy organs –the gesture would extend nearly a half-dozen lives.

Meanwhile online, a battle was erupting. Police at the scene of Erin’s crash sensed the presence of alcohol and charged the woman with driving while intoxicated, long before anyone knew of her dire condition. The Saratogian rightfully reported the news they were given and the hot-button term sent ripples of rage through the paper’s online site.

Even when the Fay’s daughter finally died Saturday afternoon, online readers were viciously ripping each other. Some argued about the DWI laws. Some offered spiteful thanks that she only killed herself. Some argued that all the arguing was only twisting the rusted screws that had impaled those who knew and loved the girl.

Astoundingly, the battle raged on for nearly two days after the death. Finally on Monday, editors at the Saratogian put an end to what had clearly grown out of control. The comments section on the original article and two subsequent articles were disabled and the trolls that had besmirched an already tragic situation disappeared into the dark recesses of the Internet.

Those who knew Erin Fay describe her as an all-around amazing woman who seemed destined for success. She carried a stunning beauty and was outgoing. But in black in white and to those who see the world in similar absolutes, she was just another DWI; a faceless person that embodied everything that’s wrong today. Hopefully in wake of the tragedy, there are a handful of overzealous keyboard jockeys re-evaluating their outlook on life.

Tragedy is tragedy, and the still somewhat tight-knit community of Saratoga Springs has seen too much of over the past week. The larger lummox-like Times Union and Daily Gazette were just warming to the Fay story Tuesday when a body mysteriously appeared along the dog walk trail in the State Park.

Quickly, the word spread across the Internet. The Times Union took the brashest approach by labeling the death of a male in his “mid-20s” a “homicide.” Though the TU was technically correct in their terminology –police investigate any unattended death as a homicide –the term also seems closely linked to the concept of ‘murder’ in the CSI-crazed eye of the generally uninformed public. And it’s looking like this characterization couldn’t be further from the truth in the case of in 19-year-old Alex Carsky-Bush.

Fortunately for the Carsky-Bush family, the internet hasn’t erupted into a frenzy of rants and pontifications about the death of their son. But unlike the Fay family, they now have to deal with a number of front-page articles focusing on their loss. At this point, the death has become so public that it’ll get broad media attention if it does turn out to be a case where no criminal wrong is found.

Update: The TU went out on a limb Wednesday evening, claiming police had linked the deceased boys apparent overdose to a Oxycotin robbery at CVS in Wilton Monday. The bombshell was dropped, but then curiously and quickly removed from their online site within a couple of hours. There was no mention of the link in Thursdays web or print edition. That didnt stop the Saratogian from jumping on what the extremely fragile limb the TU mashed. They were the lone paper to have anything about the connection in print.

Were iSaratoga to lend its expert counsel, all papers would be advised to drop this story until something official is released. There
s no glory in scooping anyone on a story like this. Accuracy is far more important than timeliness when it comes to the needs of a grieving family and theres no immenent threat to the community.

Sadly, police can usually determine with a good deal of accuracy the direction an investigation will turn within the first hours of a body being found. And the word is they already have in this case. But rather than ease the hyper-coverage of the media, they’ve kept things quiet. Now, the TU has a special ‘death investigation’ site that’s eagerly awaiting the autopsy results; the Saratogian, perhaps still stunned by how out-of-control their Fay story became, markedly downplayed their online coverage of the story Wednesday.

Like any new technology, the Internet has revolutionized human perceptions; the way we view ourselves and the way we view our peers. In a sense, the Web has depersonalized tragedy much in the same way that newspaper objectivity did back when people still bought them. The nearly instantaneous delivery of information has made pundits out of everyone and brought to the surface a new, grayer brand of callousness.

Police agencies continue to struggle with internet news. Just as they were learning to deal with newspapers, the Internet touched down. Now they seem inept when it comes to releasing all the information they have or none at all. For instance, it made little sense for the state police to charge Erin Fay with DWI, much less release this information to the Saratogian while her family was contemplating whether to take her off life support. Likewise, they would have certainly benefited from the police downplaying the death of Carsky-Bush, rather than baiting the media by calling it ‘suspicious.’

More in need of a manifesto are the free-wheeling anonymous legions of online media hounds. The advent of newspaper discussion sites first encouraged unfettered and unique discussions. These discussions can be enlightening and a good barometer for the issues that truly rile up a readership.

But they’re also giving birth to a new brand of callousness that seems to be replacing the now-stigmatized vitriol that swirled around issues of race, religion and sex. While you won’t catch too many of these righteous pseudo-pundits and quasi-trolls calling their targets ‘fag’ or ‘nigger,’ they won’t bat an eye about calling for someone’s death or worse, which can be just as hateful and sometimes even more hurtful that these slurs.

This is the ugly side of the First Amendment; the dark corner of free speech that shields and even promulgates shades of hate. Hopefully, a common ground can be found between all these elements before the courts and absolutests decide to stop the tide of free flowing information altogether. After all, free speech is a right that can quickly go up in smoke under the flames caused by its abuse.

24 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for saying what 99% of us are feeling and thinking. It is the few who spew the poison and spread hate and it should not be allowed to go on.

11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not the freedom that free speech provides. It's morbid idiots that have nothing better to do than make stupid comments/observations. My heart goes out to both families - they deserve peace.

11:26 AM  
Blogger Steve Shoe said...

Hear hear. I've touched on this issue a few times over at my blog.

Unfortunately, the callousness of comments has caused us to re-evaluate our policy about their availability. They were disabled on the stories about Erin Fay and Alexander Carsky-Bush. It will require foresight, but from now on they will be disabled on stories we expect will get similar, tasteless responses. Unfortunately, the value of the few quality comments gets lost in the tsunami of ugly comments.

On the other hand (at least for the time being) stories about local politics will remain (within reason) a free-for-all.

11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And so the pot calls the kettle black.

2:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done HA. I was impressed with the Saratogian's front page OBIT on Erin Fay (going deeper than the standard three graphs). I missed out on the back story and now I see it was the paper's way of trying to make up for the on-line crap fest. I have to give the editors a little credit on that.

As to the family, our prayers are with you and it was a wonderful way to honor your daughter with the gift(s) of life for so many others.

5:03 PM  
Anonymous Kyle York said...

HO-

Passionately eloquent and painfully human... and a damnable shame you ever had to write it.

I can add little to your prose, simply one reflection on a friend who simply glowed. It was pointless to look at the Park's "Spirit of Life" when we had it with us as Erin.

As for the heartlessly cruel cybercretins, "Trolls" is a well-cut gem. I've learned to tolerate the typos that come with writing without attentiveness. But there is no excuse for the publish-it-now pandemic of writing without thought.

When Lincoln was infuriated and angered to his limits, he would write a letter and put it away. And then he would read his words at a later date. In all his life, he never sent one of those notes composed in rage.

Yeah, I know. You're all sick of Lincoln. Sick of me.

And I guess that's the solution I've advocated all my life. That a writer take ownership of his or her words by signing his or her name.

Anonymity was fine when it lived on the pale-green canvas of a thousand bathroom stalls. And yet even in that disinfected Lysol-soaked environment, never would any wretched hand scrawl anything so sick as the work of The Saratogian's bloggers, those anonymous trolls walking among us in Spa City.

-Kyle York
World Without Erin

7:00 PM  
Anonymous online commenter said...

Bravo. Just like with the second amendment, having the right to do something doesn't give anyone to right to be irresponsible about it.

Online comments everywhere are almost always vicious and spiteful; having no identity gives the speaker license to say whatever they want. On newspaper sites, they're particularly awful. "I hope she dies" -- that's someone's daughter and friend, for goodness sake.

And while I love your tone in this post, to suggest that someone who could make a comment that brazen, that truly inhuman would later reconsider... I'm sorry, I think that's overly optimistic.

7:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I happen to be bless by working with Erin one summer in Saratoga Springs. She was a beauitful girl that was just so full of life and my life is better for knowing her. I would see her every once and while around town and we still shared that bond that we made just being co workers one summer. She will greatly be missed by my friends and I. RIP Erin... Alex

8:28 PM  
Blogger A small "r" republican for fairness said...

HO:

Outstanding article. It is a shame that such eloquence had to be ascribed to such tragedy.

And for once, you seemed to finally get real, thoughtful responses. Maybe there is hope for the world after all....

Small 'r'

9:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's what the TU gets for having its Saratoga social reporter try to cover a death case. Every other media outlet (even the Saratogian!) saw the Carsky thing for what it was fairly quickly.

5:48 AM  
Anonymous KRC said...

I met Erin 10 years ago on Cape Cod! She was a bright bubbly 20 year old with all of her life ahead of of her! Her accident saddens me because she was a good soul. She saw the best in people and lived her life that way! As the saying goes, "only the good die young"! But I believe that Erin has come here for a reason and has been taklen for a reason- if only one person learns from her accident it will be a lesson taught! I send my condolences to the Fay family and hope you realize how may ways your daughter has touched my life in the short 4 months I spent with her!

8:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nancy Muldoon says:

I can only hope that the person who wished that young woman to die is outed, no posting is truly anonymous and if the Saratogian has any sense they will expose that jerk and allow the good folks in this community to deal with that individual accordingly.

10:53 AM  
Anonymous Same Sex Marriage said...

Some how some way this has to be Ron Kim's fault.

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"was driving down Jones Road when she hit a patch of ice."

I'm confused.
Did she get in a accident because of ice on the road or was she intoxicated?

4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today's Post Star..
"SARATOGA SPRINGS -- It has been nine months since 17-year-old Saratoga Springs High School student Edward Loomis was killed by a drunk driver.

On Friday, the boy's parents, Robert and Diane Loomis, filed a $12 million lawsuit in Saratoga County Supreme Court seeking damages against two Saratoga Springs taverns and the estate of Michael A. Arpey.

"This wasn't a tragic accident. This was murder of our son," a visibly shaken Diane Loomis said Friday."

If a good friend or even a relative of this dead 17 year old typed "those four seemingly innocuous words" it would still be wrong but at least one could understand where the anger came from.

6:08 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

2:48,

"And so the pot calls the kettle black." I'm not sure how you lump the commentary at iSaratoga in with someone wishing death on another person. I assume you're bringing the issue of anonymity up, which is a fine argument to have, but not one that's overly pertinent to this situation, in my honest opinion. But due indulge into this discussion if you care to. I'll be more than happy to oblige.

4:24,

As of now, the factors in the crash are speed and road conditions. The police smelled alcohol at the scene, and I've even heard mention of an 'alcohol container' being in the car. But until her blood tests come back, it's tough to say whether drinking contributed to or was the cause of the accident. I think in the end, you'll find that speed, road conditions and alcohol were all factors. If any one was not present, she'd probably still be alive today.

6:08,

Clearly, the Loomis family was devastated by their brush with DWI. And the fact that their son was a wholly innocent victim of someone else's poor decision makes their loss all the more tragic.But with this said, I think we can all agree that one person's death generally doesn't justify the killing of another completely unrelated person, who had no hand in the matter whatsoever.

This sort of thinking goes well beyond the 'eye for an eye' mentality some people bring to the table when tragedy strikes. I'd even argue that someone calling for the death of random drunk drivers -if they have suffered a crippling loss to DWI -harbor a very unhealthy resentment in their soul, which should probably be mitigated clinically.

Harboring an unabated hatred is very unhealthy outlook to carry after a life-altering experience. Is it justified? I can't tell you that. But seep-seeded resentment is the type of thing that can ultimately consume a person and all the good they could otherwise do in the world. And that just compounds a tragic situation. For more on this, read Faulkner.

7:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure we all know this type of anger is a wasted emotion.

Angry people do and say stupid things.

2:35 PM  
Anonymous agphoto said...

people who comment like that anonymously are really gutless. i agree with nancy muldoon 10:53 - these people should be outed, banned, and perhaps prosecuted for spreading their filth. the 'hope you die' types are promulgating pornography - period.

i didn't know erin, but i wish i did. this is so sad on so many levels that i think i will stop drinking altogether, even when i am walking, for a very long time. Prayers to her family.

5:33 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

shit. i graduated w/ Erin. she was a sweet girl. confident, but almost shy. insecure with no outright reason to be.

this is the first i've heard of her passing.

so sad.

P.Brisbin

7:35 PM  
Anonymous 1 + 1 = 2 said...

Today's Huffington Post...

"There was a smattering of applause after the judge announced Madoff would go directly to jail _ the drab, windowless high-rise Metropolitan Correctional Center next door to the courthouse to await sentencing. But that did not lessen his victims' anger or satisfy their desire for retribution.

"So he spends the rest of his life in jail _ is that justice? People's lives are ruined," said Adriane Biondo of Los Angeles, one of five members of her family who lost money with Madoff. "He's sitting in jail? That's awesome," she said sarcastically. "Where's the money, Bernie?"

DeWitt Baker, an investor who attended the hearing and said he lost more than $1 million with Madoff, said: "I'd stone him to death.""

To err is human; to forgive is divine.

Such is human nature.

8:38 PM  
Blogger Kristen Fay said...

This was posted so long ago but it still makes me feel better about the support that people have for our family and Erin. It was so devastating to read the comments people blindly posted without thinking. Thank you for this. -Kristen Fay

1:05 PM  
Anonymous Siouxsie said...

Four years ago today the world lost a great soul.If you knew Erin, consider yourself lucky. She was a wonderful person, with a kind heart and the best laugh ever. It was infectious. Her family and friends miss her every day, but are comfort in the memories they hold dear.

5:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Four years ago the world lost a great soul. If you knew Erin, consider yourself lucky. She was a wonderful person with a kind heart and the best laugh ever, it was infectious. Her family and friends miss her every day, but get comfort from the memories they hold dear.

5:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Worked with Erin years ago at Saratoga Racetrack. She was truly a fantastic person. Always had a smile on her face. When I heard about her death I felt terrible. Erin was a precious girl and life is such a precious. It pains me to think that people can be so cruel.

1:58 PM  

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