What you do on the internet matters. What you say on the internet matters. What you say to people on the internet matters. When — and how — did we forget this?
On Saturday, December 15, SNL cast member Pete Davidson posted a note on Instagram indicating he had suicidal thoughts. Davidson, who broke up with fiance Ariana Grande in mid-October, has experienced severe harassment since the split.
"I really don’t want to be on this earth anymore," he expressed in a since deleted post. "I’m doing my best to stay here for you but I actually don’t know how much longer i can last. all I’ve ever tried to do was help people. just remember I told you so."
Davidson's note was a cry for help. As many as 42 percent of those who die by suicide leave a note. Still, the overwhelming response to Davidson's note was malicious.
Even former Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee appeared to mock Davidson's pain.
When a person — any person — expresses thoughts as raw and vulnerable as Davidson's, they're often searching for help, encouragement, and a reason to forge ahead. The human experience is daunting for everyone, let alone someone like Davidson, who has a history of mental illness and whose most intimate hardships have been documented for the world.
Somehow, a chasm has grown between what's real in the everyday and what feels "real" on the web. Perception has shifted, and the worst kinds of violence, anger, and cruelty have found homes on social platforms.
To the average follower, someone like Davidson may not feel real. I can't say why that disconnect exists. But I can say that it's not human to encourage a man to kill himself. It's not humane to take pleasure in someone's anguish, but somehow, we've managed to normalize it.
In recent years, several notable celebrities have died by suicide. Robin Williams, Chester Benngington, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain are some examples. RIP.
Entertainment (and consequentially, the entertainment industry) has the power to unite and inspire, and because of this, it impacts us all. One Columbia University study even suggested the number of suicides rises after a celebrity dies by suicide.
“My past research in the wake of Robin Williams’ death found that suicide contagion was especially likely among those experiencing depressed affect because celebrity suicides in particular seem to change perceptions about the acceptability/normality of taking one’s own life," stated Christine Ma-Kellams, a psychology professor at the University of La Verne in California.
So one more time now: What we do on the internet matters. What we say on the internet matters. And, believe it or not, it influences us all in a very real way.
As a society, we're in deep need of a reset — a movement for empathy on the web.
Somewhere along the way, we stopped being followers and started being tyrants.