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06.15.2003

Piotrek Sus

I looked at the "Top 25 Blogs" links over at the blog census yesterday and was surprised to see a Polish blog had risen to the #6 slot. Usually a non-English blog in the top 10 means that a template site has slipped through my filters. But a closer look at the blog turned up something quite unusual.

The title of the blog, "pamietnik zmarlego", means "dead man's diary". It purports to be the blog of a 20-year-old man named Piotrek Su?. His first entry explains everything:

I started a blog.
I don't know why.
Certainly not because I want sympathy. That is something that I have plenty of right now. But I think I need a little understanding. And I have to give a little bit of my pain back to the world.
The truth is, I'm dying...... of a common enough disease. It doesn't matter what exactly this illness is, or why it had to happen to me, of all people.
I'm twenty years old.
When I asked my doctor if I would live to see my 21st birthday, he just shrugged his shoulders. He didn't say anything......but in his eyes I could see the truth. Well, at least he didn't lie.
I'm still young and I always thought I had my whole life in front of me......... I was wrong.

There are some ten entries in the weblog, starting in February 2002. The last entry is dated March 1, 2002, and bears a preface from Piotrek's brother, who says he is transcribing it from a sheet of paper Piotrek gave him at the hospital shortly before his death.

There are several mysteries. The biggest, of course, is whether Piotrek Sus is for real. Old-time bloggers on the English language side remember the Kaycee Swenson hoax, which took in a great number of otherwise savvy people. Some Polish bloggers in Piotrek's guest book express similar doubts. It's very hard to tell on internal evidence alone whether the blog is real or not. Finding out for certain would require making some phone calls that I don't have the heart to make.

Another mystery about the site is whether it's going to get taken down. The blog is now over a year old, but the guest book is still very active, with over 5,000 entries in it. The current entries push the old ones off the end, so by now only the last week's comments are visible. Judging by the posts, most of the readers are quite young. Some of them are just goofing off, but most are really shaken up by the website. Many of those posting mention coming back to the site again and again, almost as a kind of ritual. A bewildering number say "come visit my site", or "why don't you post more often???", which gives me that familiar head-banging-against-wall sensation I thought was unique to the American blogosphere.

Interspersed with the reader comments is this notice, dated June 14, 2003:

So. We can see that the blogger had talent. The blog is popular and is frequently visited by an enormous number of people. But unfortunately there have been no posts published here for a long time. We saw in this person's last post a note from his brother, saying he doesn't want to destroy the beauty that a certain Piotrek created. But it could unfortunately be said that the blog doesn't exist any more because it is not being maintained. We are very sorry but we must delete this blog. We're really very sorry.

The blog.pl team sends its greetings and asks you not to worry. See you later!

The way the blog.pl commenting system works, there's no way to tell if the comment is really from the site administrators, or if it itself is a put-on. The IP address listed with the comment resolves to Minsk Mazowiecki, a small town 40km east of Warsaw. Who knows what that means?

Marysia Milonas has written an excellent post (in English!) about similar "black blogs" on the Polish internet. (I've edited her comment a tiny bit for clarity):

In March '03, Magda, a 14-year-old girl from Gliwice (Silesia, south of Poland) commited suicide. She used to have a blog where she described her moods and different emotions. She left a farewell post and jumped out from a block of flats.

After her death, the blog became a place of pilgrimage for teenagers. They left commentaries of sorrow and condolence. At present, there are more than 1000 comments. Two weeks ago, there was a second suicide in the same place. Another girl from the same school. Their friends created a new website (I can't find it, information from a local newspaper ) where they put a photo of Magda. Both webpages became places of cult, a real webring of black blogs is being run by a group of persons - by reading them I wonder how many suicides were really commited, perhaps as many as 4.

In Gliwice (over 200,000 inhabitants), people are talking a lot about the story, there is even a rumour that says it is a new kind of sect (satanic, of course) that makes young people commit suicide. The teachers from the school learned about the blogs and asked the police (!) to shut down Magda's blog because "it represents a danger to other young people".

Be sure to read the full post and comments.

Blogs like Magda and Peter's occupy a thorny ground. They can have a profound impact on complete strangers, and yet they are artifacts of a virtual world where the temptation to invent is strong. Who as an adolescent hasn't had fantasies of dying, and then being able to attend the funeral to see the distress of the people who had persecuted you? A virtual space is a tempting place to live out that kind of self-pitying fantasy. But people also die for real. And what if an unstable young person reads a fabricated suicide blog and goes on to actually kill herself? Blogs can't drive you to suicide (not even Scripting News), but if you're already seriously considering it, reading something heartfelt might provide a determining nudge.

I suspect that Piotrek's blog is genuine. Assuming it's a hoax is an easy way to avoid confronting his pain. But it reads true.

Still, all questions of trust and veracity aside, what should happen to sites like his? In his last post, he expresses regret at causing even more pain by inflicting his life on strangers, yet it's clear from the comments that many people find solace in what he wrote. Should his blog stay up indefinitely, as a kind of shrine? Should it stay up as long as there are people actively posting comments? Piotrek was terminally ill - what about those people who make their blog a very public suicide note?

Don't look at me for answers - I'm no InstaPundit.

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