A 35 year-old woman fell to her death from the 17th floor of a building on 57th St. in New York City last night (or early this morning). She was apparently leaning against the railings on her apartment’s balcony when those railings suddenly gave way. The details are no doubt still to be fully established. Obviously, tragic accidents occur every day. This one is in the news at all only because of the particular drama of such a fall in midtown Manhattan. The story itself is, truth be told, relevant only to the people personally involved, and the people who mourn the woman’s loss.
Yet, what’s really remarkable is seeing the kinds of comments on this story that so many people have left, using in most cases their real names and Facebook identities. I don’t read comment sections anymore as a rule, but the first ones I saw on this were so horrible that I felt obliged to go on and see if they continued in that vein. And they did. Many of the most vile remarks were those directed at the dead woman because the story had reported that she was smoking on her balcony when the accident occurred. People felt it worthwhile to pause long enough on the page to leave brief derisive comments such as, “Who wants to date a woman who smokes and smells like tobacco – yuck,” or “She was a smoker. Poor judgment is par for the course.” Or something along the lines of “Tobacco kills!” Again, people using their real names, with photos and actual Facebook profiles attached (sometimes hugging a spouse or clasping their small child in their arms) stop to leave a random insult on a public webpage with a story about a woman who has just died. They are capable of being just that shameless.
Others condemned the woman because of assumptions they made about her social life. Others inserted political diatribes of no relevance to the story. And many of those commenting got into short but vicious arguments with one another, using four-letter insults back and forth.
What I’m pointing out is nothing new, but sometimes you’ve just got to step back and take stock once again. It’s especially noteworthy with a story like this, where nothing is going on but for the fact that a woman died tragically, and yet so many people somehow cannot restrain themselves from blurting out the most vulgar and wildly judgmental things. It’s as if they’re all just overflowing with bile, and any story they read just offers another opportunity to spread it around. Sure; a few decent types intervene and say something like, “What is wrong with all of you – that poor woman plunged to her death,” but there is no point. Such comments only egg on the bile-spreaders, who now have someone else to mock. Do they behave like this outside of webpages, in their actual lives, with strangers they meet on a daily basis?
I can only say that if such a crowd of people were outside my house carrying on in person as they are in the comments sections, I would call the police, or take the law into my own hands.
It’s genuinely depressing. Reading the comments section on news stories provides a perspective on humanity that I think it’s difficult to otherwise obtain, outside of a North Korean detention camp or an institution for the criminally insane.