29 28.06.2019 09:51:54 09:51

Richard Lewis: How the Internet failed Etika

At the time of writing, it has been just a few hours since a body hauled out of the East River in New York City has been identified as that of Desmond Etika Amofah. The 29-year-old had been missing for days, his belongings found near a bridge, a deliberately left clue that this time wouldn’t be like all the others when he had battled with the darkness.

This time he would lose.I didn’t know Desmond and barely followed his work, only really watching from afar the last year. There will be better people to pay tribute to his life than me. That isn’t what this is. Nor is it an attempt to turn his tragic death into a happening, to make this all about me like so many others have, to treat it like an event and proudly declare I was there while checking the mirror to see if my crocodile tears have dried up.

I wasn’t there and, because I didn’t know the man, my sense of loss isn’t personal. This won’t be an obituary. Instead, let it be a message to those who know what they did, and how they pushed and pulled a public figure to the point that he felt suicide was the only way to avoid consequences that were most likely imagined.

There were few voices telling him this important truth but plenty that fed this dangerous lie. Posting the suicide hotline and saying how much you’ll miss him will not absolve you.Etika had, for some time, clear and obvious problems with mental health. This isn’t surprising. All studies show that there has been a huge rise of mental illness worldwide.

I talk of it often. I see it often. How can anyone’s mind hold up to the awful online world we’ve created? Reality TV mechanics feeding the notion we can simply vote off people we don’t like. Cancel culture mobs pouring over everything you’ve ever said and ever done and pushing for it to go viral in a bid to strip you of everything you’ve ever had.

Constant access to fans and abusers alike who can instantly hit you with a slew of unchecked vitriol that drowns out any positives you might enjoy reading. Forums of people dedicated to finding out where you live and looking to put those details out publicly, removing even the sanctuary of home. This amid a backdrop of the hysterical, screeching 24-hour news channels that dream up an apocalyptic crisis every day.

Yet every hour we scan social media in the hope of being part of the next thing, to delude ourselves that we have already made it and are important, or to torture ourselves by staring at the lives of people we think we can never emulate.Desmond seemed the type of person who would somehow negotiate that landscape and remain unscathed.

Energetic, enthusiastic, with a strange charisma that shone through even in moments that should have been nerdy and awkward, what this past year did to him was hard to watch. You couldn’t help but notice that for a young man he talked about death just a little too much for it not to be concerning. His moods started to appear just a little bit too big, his silences a little bit too quiet.

. And then last year.....

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