I first stumbled upon the story of Nikki Catsouras one morning via an AOL news headline. The article described what appeared to be an ongoing legal battle between the Catsouras family and the entire World Wide Web.
For those who are not already aware of the story, Nikki Catsouras was an 18 year old woman from California who was tragically killed in a car accident. Traces of cocaine were present in her system according to the autopsy report, which may have contributed to the fact that she was barreling down the highway at over 100 miles per hour in her father's Porsche before clipping another car and ultimately crashing into a toll booth.
Within a matter of days, the crash scene photographs were circulated throughout the Internet, one even making it's way into Mr. Catsouras e-mail inbox. The crash had been so gruesome that the coroner's office would not allow the Catsouras family to identify the body of their daughter. Responsible for the leaking of the photos were two California Highway Patrol officers via digital cameras and other means.
The main photograph circulated is one of Nikki Catsouras post mortem inside of the barely recognizable remnants of the car, her head nearly decapitated. These images have reportedly been posted on hardcore porn websites, morbid websites featuring other images of death and gore, and many others.
What horrified me the most of this story is how one need not look far to involuntarily view the images. Having googled the young woman's name, I involuntarily was able to view the pictures in an instant. I did not even do an image search, but instead it came up on the screen as it would when many images are associated within a search. If one were to click on google images under her name, even putting their search settings from "moderate" to "strict" would do nothing as the images are everywhere.
The Internet reaction to the young woman's death was horrifying. Many reaped on the fact that she and her family were rich, some felt she deserved what happened to her as a result, being that she was "spoiled". Some pointed out the fact that she had been under the influence of drugs, and blamed her parents as a result of this.
But let us all take a step back for a moment and truly analyze the situation. Regardless of how or why, a young woman died in a tragic manner. She was a human being like you and I, with a family who cared for her, and friends and classmates. The Internet provides a certain shield for many people, one in which they can say things they would not otherwise say or are not even socially acceptable.
Let us take a look at the source, shall we? What sort of individual, you might ask, would seek out gruesome photos and create a collection of them for the purpose of viewing? Most people would immediately respond with someone who is sick, who is crazy, and so forth. One does not usually think of it in this manner, but in order for these photographs to be posted online, a lengthy process occurred.
Firstly, the two California Highway Patrol officers decided to leak the photos for a reason not given. I would guess that they knew the photos would be a sensation on the Internet for those with morbid curiosity and obsessions with the dead and doubtless other strange purposes. Perhaps they received money for it, but one cannot speculate on such things. No doubt these officers are commonly exposed to such images and have developed somewhat of an immunity to such things as a result, as much an immunity as a mentally healthy human being could develop.
From there the photos were e-mailed directly to family and friends, and were even circulated during her funeral. One was sent to her father entitled, "Daddy, I'm still alive!". A false myspace account was created with links to the photographs. The family lives in horror of coming across them, and why?
No doubt this is a broad topic to tackle. It begins with the people who post the photographs, those who search and view them, and those who create websites, send e-mails, and write comments about it.
Rotten.com is a prominent website in the world of gore and other bizarre violent images and video. This is one of the sites that the images were featured in. Their slogan is, "When hell is full, the dead will walk the earth. Pure Evil since 1966, Flush Please,". I could go into a whole analysis over each statement made, but instead I will analyze the type of person (or persons) we are dealing with. There are countless possibilities, but I have attempted to narrow it down.
Sometimes when individuals have a fear, they will seek to conquer it by means of confronting it. If this were the case in the creators of this website, they would have created the website for means of confronting a fear, and in turn getting a rise out of people who were to view it. They may also be receiving money for each time they get a hit which could feed into the need to continue.
Much more likely however, is that these individuals suffer from schizophrenia, a highly complex mental disorder. In certain cases of schizophrenia, the individuals become obsessed with death, gore, and other disturbing thoughts that a healthy mind could not comprehend. Such a case of schizophrenia is rather uncommon, but if one were to look at the web, many such sites exist, again proving how many people can come out of the wood work when the are protected behind a computer screen. In such types of schizophrenia, the individual has many other complex issues as well in addition to their morbid obsession. They possibly suffer from a schizotypal personality disorder, an Axis II disorder, in which the individual can become preoccupied in bizarre thoughts, ideas, and ways of thinking that is inconsistent with socially acceptable norms. The individual may have other medical issues such as a brain mass or tumor, and other possible medical conditions. It may also be congenital.
Another possibility is that the individual is seeking attention, hoping to get a rise out of people, and what better way to do so than by doing something completely off the charts? Posting such pictures and adding insensitive, nasty, or mean comments is sure to get a rise out of people, as well as many hits to your website.
One portion of a website known as "encyclopediadramatica.com" had an article on Catsouras, in which the author wrote in a vulgar and demeaning manner, no doubt hoping to get a rise out of someone, or else why post it? Captioned beneath a picture of Nikki looking beautiful and vibrant in life, the author posted, "Nikki Catsouras: A Waste of a good vagina". Another crash scene photo shows remnants of her skull along the highway as well as an officer lifting remains of it out of a pool of blood along against the toll booth. The author captioned the photo as, "Lucky officer given the honor of picking Nikki's skull out of the pavement." And finally, captioned below the infamous photo of an up close of her nearly decapitated head, the author writes, "I'd still hit it". I have to believe that to a degree this author was also jealous of the family's wealth. He made mention of the fact that Catsoura's father had eaten lunch at home and owned a $150,000 Porsche. He also pokes fun at their lawsuit, calling them a "gold digging family". Clearly the family is already wealthy, and the lawsuit is in hopes to eliminate the photographs, but why try to make sense with a person who suggests having a desires to have sex with the dead?
So the people who get the ball rolling with these pictures are in a category all their own. But what about the people who seek them out? I would have to sum that up to a natural curiosity. Someone mentally stable may seek out these images just to see what all the fuss is about, and in turn may regret doing so. Humans by nature are curious of things, and with the mass information scattered throughout the web, it is easy for one to seek out things they would not normally seek out. This could be thought of as an example of the idea that humans have the inability to not look at accidents and the like, known as "Train wreck Syndrome" or "Car Crash Syndrome". However, this is not quite the same as driving by an accident, this is seeking it out and voluntarily looking.
Lastly we have the commentators. Everyone has an opinion these days, and with the Internet, people can gab off ruthlessly with little to no consequence other than the possibility of getting into a war of words with someone. Some websites have certain rules about harassment and insulting other members on forums and the like, but there are no solid laws about cyber bullying or harassment to date. No doubt this has contributed to how rampant the pictures have become. The reason for such harsh and cruel words about how she deserved it and such are probably fueled by the anonymity and to some degree, jealousy. She was beautiful, young, and rich. I personally believe her family cared about her, or else the incident would not have occurred. She was driving her father's Porsche because he had taken her car keys away for smoking a cigarette in the house, thus breaking the family rules.
She was known to have an adverse reaction to cocaine due to her brain tumor. When she was acting oddly before her death, most likely the result of the cocaine, her family had made an appointment for her to see her doctor the following day, but she died before she ever could.
I curiously discovered that the family's website, www.supportnikki.org, no longer ceases to exist. The website's purpose was for people to send websites containing the gruesome images and get them removed. Sounds like a good plan, but if one attempts to access the site, it simply leads you to the Reputation Defender website. Sadly, I believe that the family most likely shut down the website because it had the adverse effect. Possibly people became even more curious, and sought out the pictures even more. Probably people continued to be mean and heartless and write derogatory messages to the family.
I see nothing outstanding about this young woman that would make anyone want to dislike her. True she had normal teenage problems, but I see no reason for the horrible treatment she has received in death. No human being should ever be placed in such a light for any reason. The dead cannot stand up for themselves, and what has happened is heartless, sick, and cruel. It is also a demonstration of the worst elements of the Internet combined into a lethal cocktail that has become the nightmare of the Catsouras family.
The situation speaks poorly of our state of affairs as a human race when the dead are exposed and mistreated in such a manner. It is sad that a family cannot even keep up a website to end the treatment without people unrightfully attacking them for a situation that was out of their control.
I hope that my writing of this will encourage people to think twice about what they "say" on the Internet and how it effects people. We are after all, all human.