Additional reporting by GORDON KHO and KENNETH CHAW
Where once online abuse was considered part and parcel of the life of a celebrity, an increasing number of stars are now concluding that social media is more trouble than it is worth.
This comes at a time when awareness of the threat of cyberbullying is increasing and when predicting what might trigger an online mob has become near impossible.
The latest celebrity to leave her social media account is Australian actress Ruby Rose, who deleted her Twitter account recently following attacks surrounding the news that she has been cast as superhero Batwoman. She also turned off public comments on her Instagram account.
According to netizens, the 32-year-old gender-fluid star was the wrong choice for the role because she is not Jewish and also “not gay enough”.
Batwoman will be DC Comics’ first openly gay superhero on television when the character is featured in a special crossover episode involving other DC superheroes set to air later this year on American television network The CW.
While Rose at first shared her excitement online about being cast – calling it a “childhood dream” on Instagram – she appears to have chosen to go quiet on the issue for now.
It is easy to think that celebrities who quit social media because of negative comments are simply being “diva” or overly dramatic, but experts say that the threat of cyberbullying is in fact very real.
“No human deserves to be trolled and hounded for doing their job. Body shaming, racial slurs, stalking are all just behaviours that contribute nothing and reflect worse on the people bullying than the victims,” says Associate Prof. Dr Anasuya Jegathevi Jegathesan, programme director, Psychology, at Taylors University, Malaysia.
Serious Mental Health Issues
For some celebrities, this pressure can become so great that it leads to serious mental health issues.
In 2014, New Zealand and Australian model-actress Charlotte Dawson committed suicide following years of dealing with vicious trolls on her social media accounts, who sent her daily death threats for “being too ugly”.
In 2016, American actress Selena Gomez, the most-followed person on Instagram with 140 million followers, suddenly quit social media altogether and voluntarily checked herself in for a 90-day rehab programme to get treatment for depression and anxiety.
One of the things that pushed her to seek treatment was the pressures of dealing with her social media accounts, according to reports.
In an interview with InStyle magazine last year, she was quoted as saying: “Because of social media, because of all the pressure that girls have, it’s so difficult … Now it feels more zoomed-in – you have ugly people trying to get negative things from you, and the energy makes you feel bad about yourself.
“You can’t help it. It’s very hard to find out who you are during all that mess and pressure.”
She returned to social media after the end of the rehab programme.
Know Your Rights And Boundaries
According to Dr Anasuya, celebrities with active social media accounts need to be mentally prepared for the levels internet trolls can sink to.
“Have a good sense of humour and a sharp wit if you want to respond, know your rights and boundaries,” she advises.
“Just because you are a celebrity does not mean that you are not entitled to a private life. If stalking/bullying gets too far, know when to block or take protective action,” she adds.
Malaysian celebrities, too, have been victims of cyberbullying. Sometimes, not only are the celebrities targeted but their significant other as well.
When actor Hafidz Roshdi got married in 2016, some netizens went online to make mean remarks about his wife’s appearance.
Instead of retaliating. Hafidz kept cool about it. He told Star2 in an interview: “(My wife is) beautiful in my eyes. So, if people want to say whatever they want to say, that’s their right. Even when it comes to celebrities, you could have Beyonce and Selena Gomez, and there are some people who will think either Beyonce or Selena Gomez (is more beautiful).
“So it’s up to an individual’s opinion. I think she’s beautiful and I don’t care what others have to say.”
Actress-singer Fazura is no stranger to being a target of trolls online. The artiste, who has more than four million followers on Instagram, recently found herself embroiled in controversy when it was pointed out that the finale to her fashion show was similar to two other fashion show finales in the past.
While that has been sorted out, Fazura did tell Star2 that she’s always on scrutiny by certain quarters of netizens.
“I have a group of haters that spend almost 24 hours a day focusing on my life and trying to find any mistake about me so that they can feel better about themselves.”
However, she is not going to let them take control of her life. Her mantra? “In the end, positivity and unity will always defeat hate,” she said.
Dr Anasuya agrees, saying celebrities should keep a clear head when dealing with these bullies.
“Do not respond when you are emotional, that is the trap and what the bullies want. You are better off being rational in all replies and not have the interaction turn into a flame that serves to feed the trolls.” – The Straits Times/Asia News Network