COLUMN: What if the tests are wrong?

I think back occasionally to one of the more tragic — and infuriating — topics I have visited in this space. It is tragic enough when a young person takes their own life, but when driven to suicide by online bullying it is infuriating. Unfortunately, we appear to have learned nothing over the past decade.

The recent suicide of Hana Kimura brought it all home again.

I first visited this topic a little more than 10 years ago when 15-year-old Phoebe Prince ended her life, unable to cope with the constant torrent of bullying that became part of her life. For somebody suffering online bullying, there is no such thing as a safe space. It feels like there is no escape.

Prince emigrated from Ireland to the Boston area. She was a child trying to fit in, but instead found herself an outcast. Maybe it was her accent, maybe she tried too hard to fit. She was accused of stealing somebody's boyfriend and labeled as someone who was "sleeping around." It all became too much for her.

Prince just wanted to be left alone.

But 22-year-old Japanese professional wrestler Hana Kimura sought a celebrity status that she wasn't prepared for.

Kimura wrestled in Japan for Stardom, a female professional wrestling organization. She also appeared on the reality TV show "Terrace House," which became a Netflix hit. The show, produced by Fuji TV, follows six people (three men, three women) as they temporarily live together in a house in Tokyo.

The show was characterized as being different from reality TV shows in the U.S. Nobody was being voted off and there were no roses being handed out. It was ostensibly just a show about how six strangers manage to live in the same house.

Still, it being reality TV, it wouldn't have much of an audience without some conflict. Drama transpired between Kimura and a male member of the household, but not over sexual tensions as seems to be a necessity of such shows here.

No, in one episode Kimura was angry when the male cast member accidentally ruined one of her wrestling costumes when he washed it. She reacted by slapping him. That's all it took for hatred to start coming her way.

Bear in mind during the airing of the show Japan had pretty much been on lockdown due to the coronavirus. The cyber nastiness directed at Kimura was, in a sense, inescapable in a locked-down world.

According to a report from Germany-based news outlet, "The backlash was quick and fierce; posters on Twitter and other social media sites demanded that she immediately leave the reality TV show and accused her of being 'stupid.' More than one post said Kimura should kill herself."

It is not hard to imagine the torrent of hate and cruel nastiness coming at her from Twitter alone. Twitter continues to be community of one-upsmanship where seemingly everybody tries to be edgy and get noticed. The more attention, the more folks double down, especially on the nastiness.

It's also fair to speculate on Kimura's psychological frailty, but that is no excuse. The bullying may even be more shocking coming from Japan as noted in the report by Kyle Cleveland, a professor of Japanese culture at the Tokyo campus of Temple University.

"In a society that has such a reputation for respect and public decorum, of being well-mannered and principled, people who are unleashed on the internet have become totally unrestrained," Cleveland said. "There is no accountability and people are free to be very belligerent. It can be really brutal.

"To me, Kimura seemed pretty psychologically vulnerable, and that would have been made worse by the fan culture that has reached the point where it is almost as if these people live in a state of permanent surveillance."

Other cast members of the show say they have experienced similar online behaviors.

Following Kimura's suicide, Fuji TV announced it was discontinuing the show.

Kimura was discovered dead in her apartment Saturday with a plastic bag over her head.

She left a message on Instagram. Her last post was of her and her cat captioned "goodbye."

On Friday she had posted on Twitter: “I don’t want to be a human anymore. It was a life I wanted to be loved. Thank you everyone, I love you. Bye.”

Like Prince, she sought love and acceptance. Instead, like Prince, she found herself surrounded by hate. In the intervening decade between their tragic deaths, cyberbullying has been reported to be at least partially responsible in too many other suicides.

It appears we have learned little and online entities appear helpless, or reluctant, to police such behavior. So, we must appeal to our better selves, if such still exists.

Please, think before posting anything hateful toward another person. You don't know what they are dealing with in their lives. If posting something vile makes you feel good, then re-examine your own motivations.

Phoebe, Hana and too many others serve as tragic reminders of our cruel cyber world. We can, and must, do better.


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Ruthenberg is sports editor for the Enid News & Eagle.

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