The death of Sulli, a popular South Korean actress and singer, on October 14th, aroused a lively discussion on the topic of cyberbullying and mental health issues. Despite being only 25-year-old, Sulli was said to have committed suicide at her home in Seongnam, a city close to the capital. On the surface, Sulli presented herself as a gorgeous and lighthearted girl, but she was, in fact, struggling with depression as an effect of hate comments on her social media. Sulli was known for being an activist of the “no bra movement” and other women’s liberations in Korea and posting controversial ideas on her social media accounts. Her posts often attracted a great number of conservative-minded people who would leave hateful comments and criticize her for trying to gain attention by posting provocative pictures. The haters targeted her to a point that she felt helpless and unwanted, so she tried to defy the cyberbullying by being herself and posting more controversial photos. However, things only got worse. Sulli was found weeping on Instagram Live and talking about hoping the haters could understand and love her more. These signs were clearly her distress-signals for help, but they went unnoticed by the public. It wasn’t until the news of her death broke out, that people started to realize how hate comments and bullying through the internet could lead to depression and suicide.
Upon hearing Sulli’s story, I was interested in how high school students would think about this incident and depression caused by cyberbullying. Thus, I interviewed students at my school about their opinions on the topic.
“I was really shocked because she was on a show laughing about hate comments and everyone thought she overcame it. Everyone thought she was doing well,” Viki Park said when asked about her reaction when she heard the news.
Sulli was attacked primarily due to the controversial pictures she posted on social media. Viki said, “Living in America, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with posting whatever you want. In Korea, people are more conservative, so they feel uncomfortable when they see someone doing that. It’s unusual, and people have negative views toward that. People would be like: why would she do that?” Born to Korean parents, Viki understands Korean cultures well. She believed Sulli’s death has a lot to do with the social environment in Korea.
Viki expressed her opinions about the people who leave hate comments: “When she was alive, she was going to sue people, but she forgave them. People thought they would be forgiven, so they took advantage of her. It was really bad.
“If I were her, I would save evidence to sue them later. I would also go see someone like a psychiatrist if I’m not feeling well.
“I know a few celebrities died because of cyberbullying. I think that’s what they need to face since they are public figures. But the thing is, every time when something similar happens, people say they’re going to do something about it, but nothing really changes after that.”
In addition, Viki commented, “There should be more laws to protect people from being bullied on the internet. The government should make it easier to sue these bullies and make the punishment worse.”
Another student, Natalie Levin, believed, “There needs to be more opportunities to educate people on cyberbullying and to tell people that it’s not okay to do that. It’s a natural instinct for people to comment about what’s on their mind, but if it’s something mean, they should keep it to themselves.”
“I felt sad when I heard about this. She took her life when she was so young,“ said Michael Zhan, yet another student lamenting the death of Sulli. “I think there should be ways to prevent cyberbullies from attacking others. People should use real names on social media and if they offend others more than [a few] times, their account should be shut down. There needs to be a stricter system for internet violence because those cyberbullies are essentially violating others’ rights by hurting them,” Michael said.
The death of Sulli highlights a global issue that has been discussed but later became a tossed-aside conversation. What we need to do is to bring back the topic and repeatedly emphasize the significance of this problem and hope that one day there will be a policy or law that punishes cyberbullies for their malignant behaviors.
The death of Sulli is an alarm that reminds all of us that we can potentially become her someday and that we are responsible for what we say to others on internet platforms. Many people feel more confident saying mean things to others on social media because they are not saying it to their faces, but the harm that results can be equally painful to cyberbully victims.
As of now, we should learn how to protect ourselves from becoming mentally distressed after being attacked by a cyberbully. We need to raise people’s awareness of seeking a psychologist as soon as they start feeling depressed or talk to people we trust to release our stress. Moreover, we should pay attention to people around us who are displaying signs of mental illness on social media and try our best to reach out to them to prevent the situation from worsening.
Sulli wouldn’t have ended up taking her own life if she has received help and care from others. All she wanted was acceptance and love.
While everyone has the right to say anything on social media, we really need to consider the consequences of being a cyberbully.
Pic2: Gwen Ma artwork