Channel 4 aired the documentary talhotblond last night. For those who didn’t see it (SPOILER ALERT), it’s the true story of 47-year-old Thomas Montgomery, who meets 18-year-old tall hot blonde Jessi in a chat room. She is known as talhotblond, and he is marinesniper – an 18-year-old marine called Tommy.
Their relationship progresses sexually and emotionally – all online – until Montgomery’s wife gets wind of the situation and reveals the truth about ‘Tommy’ in a letter to Jessi. By this time, Jessi has struck up a friendship with 22-year-old Brian Barrett, a real-life co-worker of Montgomery. Brian comforts Jessi, who continues to speak to both men online, until one day Montgomery snaps and kills Brian in a vengeful, jealous rage with three gunshots.
It doesn’t end there. When the police arrive at Jessi’s house to alert her she may be in danger, it turns out Jessi’s mother Mary Shieler is actually talhotblond, and has been masquerading as her own daughter online – including sending them the real Jessi’s underwear and provocative photos taken without her knowledge – the whole time.
Firstly, let’s not lose sight of the fact that Tom Montgomery killed a man in cold blood. While Shieler’s actions were the catalyst for the incident, it would be naive to assume Montgomery could not have been provoked offline should another scenario had risen. However, the fact remains Shieler was the catalyst in this case; the ins-and-outs of which could only have unfolded in the way they did on the internet.
It’s long been said that people are a lot braver on the internet, and will act a certain way online because they believe they are not going to be held to account. These people, these ‘keyboard warriors’ – a group I’ve certainly been a part of – clearly still see the internet as a toy or a novelty, nastily typing past the fact that the internet is very much a part of the mainstream now and is something that isn’t going to go away.
And as the internet becomes a bigger part of everyday life, it makes perfect, unarguable sense that regulation surrounding it is brought in-line with offline law. This doesn’t mean taking away a person’s freedoms – or even their right to steal music and films – but to simply be responsible for how they behave.
Indeed, if people want to fight for freedoms in a place that doesn’t actually exist, let them, but the fact remains they should be held responsible for the way they behave.
Mary Shieler is not responsible for the death of Brian Barrett; Thomas Montgomery killed Brian Barrett. That doesn’t mean that Shieler’s role in the killing should be dismissed because it was virtual.
Brian Barrett’s parents have set up a petition calling for lawmakers to review the laws surrounding internet accountability.