With just a few taps, we are able to open our social media accounts, scroll through celebrities’ posts, and leave hateful comments. The birth of the Internet has granted us the power of anonymity: being able to interact with others without the exchanging of names and identities that are required in the physical world. With the secrecy of identity comes a sense of superiority, a feeling that you can say whatever you want to, and no one will be able to harm you back directly. This sense of reckless superiority creates a gap in how we act in real life and online. You would not tell someone “Go kill yourself” to their face. But on the internet, we see these phrases on a daily basis.
One may underestimate the influence of these words. It may be one comment out of thousands; it is no surprise that we may expect words to never reach the individual addressed. However, a recent news report has proven that these comments of hate and malice do leave untreatable scars that can push an individual to take her own life, as Hana Kimura did. As a resident on the show “Terrace House” and a professional wrestler, Hana had been known for her strong attitude and personality, which brought laughter, but also conflict. After an argument with a male resident of the house, Hana’s Instagram account was flooded with criticism and offensive comments. The defamation that Hana faced for the following weeks eventually drove her to take her own life. Her struggles were unacknowledged until recently, and now she will never come back, no matter what we do.
Hana’s death has led to discussion on how to prevent another death: perhaps placing laws on cyber-bullying, or having broadcasting systems lay greater awareness on the mental health of celebrities. But what politicians and mass media need to be aware of is that this issue does not only lie in the lack of online restriction or regulation, but in individual choice. Your individual choice. This is not the first time that this has happened. We must understand the weight our words hold.
Some say that by going public, celebrities “asked for it”, or “can’t go famous without hate,” but who do we think these celebrities are? Just because they are figures we see on our screens does not mean they are the fictional characters that appear in movies or books. Are they antlings that we may bully and torture? Do we feel pleasure from watching them wriggle and struggle in the toxic puddles of our hate? Social media has made celebrities more vulnerable to hate, for hate is difficult to avoid when just one tap on the screen can show you millions commenting and sharing their thoughts on you. Singers and actors have raised their voices to express that they are living beings as well and that fame does not give them immunity from harmful comments.
“Words cut deeper than knives. A knife can be pulled out, words are embedded into our souls” – William Chapman, author of Confessions of a Medium
We lost another widely loved and well-known figure last year, k-pop singer and former f(x) member, Sulli, to defamation and cyber-bullying. Over the last few years of her life, Sulli spoke out on mental-health issues, cyber-bullying, and women’s rights. While she had lived a genuine, honest life, she had been showered with hate on every little thing that haters could criticize, including her body and facial features. Her actions, such as wearing clothes that exposed her skin and speaking out on controversial issues, have led to comments labeling her as “the nation’s prostitute” and “attention-seeker.”
As South Korea has created a law banning the use of anonymous accounts on several platforms, there may come a time where there will be stricter restrictions placed on social media in Japan. However, we cannot rely on and wait for merely politics and the government to solve these issues.
Each and every one of us must rethink the choices we make on these social media platforms. The tiny digital screens that lie in the palms of our hands can do so much more than we are aware of. We have somehow tricked ourselves into believing that the words we leave online are only letters on a screen. They carry no meaning. But they are words we typed, and they are words that can leave untreatable wounds. This is not an issue that can be fixed by legal punishments after we lose valuable lives that will never come back. They are issues that will only be fixed when we truly learn to think before we click send.