-- AN  ONLINE  PUBLICATION --



                     Donald P. Corriveau, Ph.D.

                         Managing Editor


In our last issue, I asked readers how they would respond to 
a hypothetical situation in which a person confessed on the 
Internet to killing his 5 year old daughter. As readers 
discovered, the scenario described the details of a real 
case in which an online confession resulted in the eventual 
arrest of Larry Froistad. Candidly, I voiced my astonishment 
that only three people notified police of this morbid online 
confession. My sentiments generated criticism, even among our 
own editorial staff.  Stripped of contextual parameters, the 
term "moral responsibility" hit a nerve. I wondered privately 
whether our technologically advanced society had become morally 

How would PN readers have reacted to this online confession?  
Sixty two readers completed the online survey and a few others 
emailed extended comments. Respondents were asked to read the 
"hypothetical scenario" and indicate all the things they would 
do if they read this type of newsgroup message. Here are the 
results of our PsychNews survey:

Ignore the message.                            8.06%

Reason that the child was already dead and
that nothing could be done to
save her.                                      8.06%

Engage in flame wars with other list
members and defend Larry's behavior.           0.00%

Assume that no one in his right mind
would confess openly to this tragedy
and assume that it must be a hoax.            30.65%

Assume that memory of the fire must
have been so painful that Larry's
damaged mind was producing a false memory.     4.84%

Find the name of a reputable counselor
and send this recommendation as a
back-channel message directly to Larry.       16.13%

Counsel Larry directly by saying things
such as, "Larry, please don't
blame yourself."                               6.45%

Contact an ethics review board
(e.g., through APA) and seek advice
on what you should do.                        32.26%

Show good leadership and explain to
group members that Larry was 
mentally ill and that the child 
probably never existed.                        0.00%

Consider informing the police but wait 
to see if anyone else on the list
would do so first.                             8.06%

Notify police immediately.                    56.45%

The most striking result of our little survey was that the 
majority of respondents indicated that they would notify 
police immediately. This projection is vastly different from 
the 1.5% found in the actual Froistad case (3 of 200 members).  
Of course, saying one would follow a particular course of 
action may not be consistent with actual behavior.  

The next frequently cited course of action was to contact an 
ethics review board. I wondered how long it would take 
to process such an inquiry. Would advice be forthcoming?  
As John Grohol's article indicated, the APA's principles 
of ethical conduct don't seem to apply here. Are we lacking
ethical precedents?  

The third most frequently cited option was to "Assume that 
no one in his right mind would confess openly to this 
tragedy and assume that it must be a hoax." Could it be 
that a genuine naiveté permeated the membership of 
Moderation Management? Hasn't Jerry Springer educated 
the public on the many variants of bizarre human 
behavior? One reader indicated that she would either 
ignore the message or assume that it was a hoax and 
then "...would try to engage in a direct dialogue with 
Larry trying to seek more information/elaboration on 
this first mail, asking him what would be his intention 
by revealing this "story." Gee, I wonder what her 
intention would be in understanding Larry's intentions.

I was pleased with the results that showed zero respondents 
would "Show good leadership and explain to group members that 
Larry was mentally ill and that the child probably never 
existed." Yet, as Elisa DeCarlo described, this was the 
course of action followed by the professional leader of 
the Moderation Management group. 

While not particularly popular (8.06%), I'm still perplexed 
by anyone reasoning that they would do nothing because the 
child was already dead. Are we to ignore all murders 
because it's too late to help the victims?  

One reader (Jean) wrote, "Calling the police is not a 
satisfying solution. The harm to the daughter is done 
and I think that by his very action this person is 
indicating an autodestructive attitude (he is not 
taking adequate care of himself, even if his confession 
is entirely true). I would be inclined to try and do 
something to stop further damages to him and others."  

Showing her compassion,  Jean also wrote, "I would 
probably (knowing the author as a person would make 
a big difference) hesitate between a call to the police 
(where?) and a private communication with the author 
of the message and the list owner."  Well Jean, what 
if the list owner told you it was all a figment of 
Froistad's imagination?

Certainly, I can understand the initial hesitancy of 
many readers. One person wrote, "Initially, I would 
think that these events are so heinous that it is 
unthinkable how anyone could possibly do this to their 
child. Furthermore, even if it did happen, that anyone 
would actually confess to it in public. However, I 
suppose that it wouldn't be too long before I would 
have to inform someone - it may not be immediate as 
within a few minutes, but within a few days. I couldn't 
take the chance that it could be real."  

Another reader (psychologist from Buffalo) was less 
hesitant as he wrote, "In my opinion, there is no 
professional ethical obligation to report this confession.
Rather, there is a much simpler, more basic, human moral
obligation to seek justice for such an act. Nevertheless, 
had he confessed it within a private therapeutic 
relationship, I believe that the therapist would be 
ethically obligated to keep it confidential. But the 
man confessed it publicly!  This is (or ought to be) a 
no-brainer... Dr. Grohol's comments scare me a bit. 
Lets leave it at that."

One reader happened to be one of Rotger's former associates 
who wrote, "I was horrified to discover that the psychologist 
involved is a man I know and have worked with. I feel sorry 
for him personally, but his judgment IMO couldn't have been 
worse. Painful and frightening as it would have been to 
carry out, the right answer was totally obvious."

Perhaps the most interesting quote was enclosed in a 
reader's "signature file". It was a quote by Merton that 
read, "Living with other people and learning to lose 
ourselves in the understanding of their weakness and
deficiencies can help us to become true contemplatives."  
Have we become overly contemplative? Does anyone wish 
to discuss Bill and Monica?

Incidentally, Larry Froistad was arrested and found 
guilty. As an aside, child pornography was found on his 
computer. He has since confessed to having sexually 
molested his young daughter. I thank you, Elisa DeCarlo.

Let us continue to understand human weakness and 
deficiencies but let us not lose ourselves in this quest.