Twits, not Twitter, to blame for tragedy

COMMENT

STOP blaming Twitter for tragedies such as the suicide death of right-wing conservative Wilson Gavin.

Heartbreakingly for his family and friends, Mr Gavin ended his life the morning after leading a protest against a drag queen reading event for children.

Think what you like about the event, a partnership between the Brisbane City Council and Rainbow Families organisation that supports LGBTIQA+ parents and children.

Think what you like about the response by Mr Gavin and members of the University of Queensland's Liberal National Club.

But don't pass the buck when it comes to personal responsibility and how you express your opinions.

Twitter - like other social media platforms - is a vehicle for comment. It's a communication tool and, as such, any problems lie with the user.

Twitter isn't broken, as LNP Member for Dawson George Christensen asserted before deleting his account; it's narcissism that is causing the damage.

 

Wilson Gavin was part of the No campaign against same-sex marriage. Picture: Supplied
Wilson Gavin was part of the No campaign against same-sex marriage. Picture: Supplied

 

Too many people vent online without considering the impact on others.

They ditch self-control in a shameless grab at fame, and in their selfishness, display an entitlement that is misplaced and toxic.

Note how quickly people took down their abusive posts once they learned of Mr Gavin's passing.

Does it require a suicide for sensitivity to prevail?

We may never know if the taunts on social media are what drove this 21-year-old man to the extreme from which there is no coming back.

Those close to him suggest he had been troubled for some time. His aunt, Polly Wilson, said he was "a very tormented young man and (had) lost his way in life".

A friend, Satyajeet Marar, said: "Despite holding opinions that some people disagree with strongly, he would defend them with conviction … brave and admirable traits while most of us in this generation spend years obsessing over what others think of us and worrying about whether expressing our opinions will cause people to dislike us."

Mr Gavin, who was gay, told Sky News in 2017 ahead of the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, that he was "hated" because he was "a gay conservative".

"I'm not a homophobe. I love gay men," he said. "You can't call me a homophobe just because I'm opposed to same-sex marriage."

 

Wilson Gavin was a prominent young conservative. Picture: Picture AAP/David Clark
Wilson Gavin was a prominent young conservative. Picture: Picture AAP/David Clark

 

It is reasonable to assume that Mr Gavin was comfortable with being the subject of news coverage, that he even courted it in a bid to convey his views.

So George Christensen's statement that "suicide happens when Twitter keyboard warriors pile on an individual for a political protest" may be a stretch.

However, had Mr Gavin been reading the backlash online, much of it venomous, it can't have benefited his state of mind.

Social media use is often identified as a trigger for tragic outcomes.

Amy Jane (Dolly) Everett suicided at age 14 in January 2018, prompting her parents to launch an online campaign to raise awareness around cyber-bullying.

Television personality Charlotte Dawson suicided in February 2014, two years after being admitted to hospital in a fragile state after a prolonged battle with Twitter trolls.

Ms Dawson, 47, had also revealed an even longer battle with depression.

 

Charlotte Dawson died after a long battle with depression. Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images
Charlotte Dawson died after a long battle with depression. Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

 

Professor Peter Jones, chair of Paediatric Medicine at Bond University, has called for suicide to be reclassified as "death by depression".

"We might identify cyber-bullying, toxic workplaces and racism as causes for the suicide, these are risk factors," Prof Jones says, "but let's work on depression like if someone died of a heart attack; cigarette smoking causes heart attack … well why don't we get people to smoke less?"

The degree to which suicide is driven by internal demons or by external factors such as online abuse, would, I suggest, be different for different people.

But one thing I am certain of is that improving the way we use social media can only assist those who are emotionally vulnerable.

Parents must take the lead in showing kids how to behave appropriately online - and that includes behaving appropriately themselves, instead of giving into the temptation to vent, overshare or abuse because they can.

 

George Christensen quit Twitter this week, claiming the platform is ‘broken’. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
George Christensen quit Twitter this week, claiming the platform is ‘broken’. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

 

Countless studies link prolific social media activity with narcissistic traits such as inflated self-image, a tendency to exploit others and a lack of empathy.

These aren't characteristics we want to encourage in a society that is already skewed towards individualism at the expense of collectivism.

Professor Markus Appel, from the University of Würzburg, has crunched the results of 57 studies and found that narcissism and online behaviour meet in a "self-reinforcing spiral".

Social networks give users access to a large audience to promote themselves or their views and, unchecked, they become an ideal breeding ground for narcissists, Prof Appel says.

Considering some of the comments I've received over the years as a columnist, many people imagine that their devices provide a barrier between them and the target of their words.

They don't.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - pause before you post, think before you tweet.

We can't be responsible for the actions of others, but we can, and must, be responsible for our own.

The horrible events of this week will have lasting ramifications on those involved, from Mr Gavin's family and friends to the drag queens vilified in the protest and the children upset by it.

Every life is precious.

 


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