A mother should not have lost her daughter last week. She should not be mourning the death of her 15 year old daughter. Yet she is. She had to find the body of her daughter on the bathroom floor covered with blood. Covered with blood because this 15 year old girl took her mother’s gun and shot herself. Imagine, just imagine how unbearable the pain must have been for this girl that she decided that life wasn’t worth living. She was someone’s sister, someone’s friend, someone’s daughter and someone’s inspiration. She had dreams and hopes and all of that died when she died. Tovonna Holton should be alive today yet she isn’t.
Last week, Tovonna’s friends took a video of her while she was having a shower and uploaded it to Snapchat. Hours later the videos was being shared, with people saving screen shots and calling her derogatory names that I refuse to type out. 3 hours later Tovonna was found dead by her mother because she had committed suicide. A part of me is still struggling to reconcile the extent of the pain and humiliation that this young girl must have gone through that she made her feel that suicide was the only option. This story is heartbreaking and every time I hear stories like this I can’t help thinking about how much their deaths could have been prevented.
Just last year, I watched a video by Habiba Da Silva on the story of a teenage Muslim girl Aicha who committed suicide because of harassment and bullying. The nature of social media and the anonymity that often comes with it, is that people see it as a place where they can get away with saying anything and everything. I’m taken aback sometimes when I see the tweets that some people endure day to day. Whether these people realised it or not, they contributed to Tovonna’s death. That little moment where they decided to share that video amplified her pain in indescribable ways. It’s important that we approach the things that we see and watch on social media with empathy. That we don’t forget that behind that screen is an individual, an individual with feelings and emotions! Empathy is really necessary in the way we deal with each other and it’s disappointing to witness occasions where we prioritise laughter and humiliation over someone else’s health and well being.
This is one of the reasons why I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with some social media outlets. Recently I found myself just reflecting on some of the things that I laugh about on Instagram. I’m talking specifically about memes some of which are really rude and hurtful and in most cases some of these pictures/ videos are used without that person’s permission. Then I just stop and think: This is a human being. Approaching it from an Islamic perspective as well, I’m so wary of engaging with things that could in the slightest bit be backbiting or slander because of how much it’s a grave sin in Islam. The people who share images like Tovonna’s knowing how wrong it is or the keyboard warriors that insult, harass and humiliate people online would not be able to sustain that kind of attack in their personal lives.
It’s also disappointing that I’ve repeatedly seen comments such as ‘only weak people commit suicide, I would never commit suicide..’. Guess what? Not everyone is as strong as you. Not everyone has a support network, not everyone has the religious belief that suicide is a sin. Different people have different pain thresholds and we really need to have that in mind with events like this and again, write comments with compassion and empathy! Make sure to read the post that I did in May for Mental Health Awareness Week which includes Shane Koyczan’s Brilliant video on cyber-bullying.
Lastly, I just need to state this is not just a teenage phenomenon! Let’s talk about the appalling way in which grown women bullied Rachel Roy and her daughter online after the release of Beyonce’s Lemonade. Or the way people also bullied some of the Real co-hosts after Tamar was fired from the show. People get so carried away with the drama and they’re invested so much in it that their behaviour becomes downright abusive at times! If you’re upset on behalf of a star you love, be upset and talk about it in your living room, chat about it with your friends even with yourself if needed be. But don’t start attacking them online and issuing threats against them. Why does this even need to be stated?
Tovonna was a girl who had a future ahead of her. She had dreams, hopes and aspirations and the collective action of the people who shared her video and bullied her resulted in her death. So I will repeat it again, cyber bullying is unnecessary. It is unwarranted. It is a waste of YOUR time. The internet and social media can be an incredible place to learn, experience, share, connect and empower others! So spread positivity instead and treat people with compassion and care.