Teen's tragic suicide brings cyberbullying back in focus

Lu Feiran
The tragedy of 15-year-old Liu Xuezhou has taken the Chinese Internet world by storm, triggering much anger and soul-searching over the evil effects of online bullying.
Lu Feiran

The tragedy of 15-year-old Liu Xuezhou has taken the Chinese Internet world by storm, triggering much anger and soul-searching, just as the country gets ready to celebrate the Lunar New Year, its biggest festival.

Before ending his life in Sanya, a resort city in southern island province of Hainan on Monday, Liu posted his testament on the Twitter-like Weibo, telling people about his tragic life.

The youngster revealed he was sold by his biological parents; both of his step parents died in a fireworks blast when he was 4; he was incessantly harassed by a teacher in elementary school; and when he finally found his biological parents, they denied to take him in, telling the media that he "was asking for housing."

And the last straw was cyberbullying from netizens, Liu alleged before committing suicide through an excessive dosage of antidepressants, which he was taking for more than a year, reports claimed.

The testament received millions of "likes," comments and reposts. Countless people felt sorry for him and condemned his parents as well as the cyberbullies.

Ironically, just days before his death, the comments section on Liu's Weibo was flooded with vile remarks. People called him a "scheming cyber beggar" who "libeled his own parents," and questioned if he was really a minor.

Liu is certainly not the first victim of cyber-violence, and presumably will not be the last.

There have been enough bloody lessons: South Korean K-pop stars Sulli and Goo Hara, who were both long-term victims of cyberbullying, committed suicide in 2019; Western celebrities such as reality TV star Kim Kardashian and singer Adele are no strangers to overwhelming negative comments.

Even common people are not spared. Statistics show that in the United States, 65 percent of children have experienced cyberbullying at least once. Although no such figures have been published by authorities in China, victims can be found every once in a while.

Currently the term "cyberbullying" has not been legally defined in China. It's difficult for victims to sue bullies because it's almost impossible to identify the vast anonymous online accounts.

Following Liu's tragedy, an increasing number of people are calling for Chinese lawmakers to take action. Such laws have been passed in some countries, such as the United States and Germany, but cyberbullying has not altogether disappeared there. Maybe the online world is just different from the real one.

But there is at least one thing we can do – restrict our own behavior.

When we are about to talk bad about someone online, it would be prudent to just put your hands away from the keyboard, take a deep breath and think about the faces behind those screen names.

We should remember that they are not just a string of letters or characters, but living people just like you and me.

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