“Thank you so much.”
I don’t know how many times this single phrase has given me hope and power. We probably hear and say this simple phrase every day, for example, when we do something for others or receive a compliment from someone. “Thank you” is just one example, and there are many other positive words to make people feel good such as “I love you.” Words, however, are double-edged swords. They could save people, but at the same time, they could be a weapon. Sharp and thoughtless words immediately drive people into a corner and hurt their self-esteem. Words are more powerful than we think. We live in the Internet age when we can express ourselves and put what we are thinking into words more easily through social media. It is urgently necessary for us to rethink the meaning that words have.
Everybody should still remember this shocking news very clearly. On May 23rd, Hana Kimura, a pro wrestler and star of the popular reality show “Terrace House,” took her own life and put a period on her pain and suffering at 22. Several notes that implied her suicide were found in her room. Apparently, she ended her life to run away from overflowing heartbreaking comments on social media. After an episode where she got angry with one of the roommates over an issue that may sound trivial to some, hateful messages criticizing her remarks and behavior during the show arrowed through her. According to her, she received nearly 100 honest opinions every single day. Some of them were beyond criticism, including some saying, “Be gone quickly for the sake of god,” and “You are no better than trash.” Each word made a hole in her heart to the point that she blamed herself, saying that she was more aware than anyone else that she should be gone and die.
News of her death brought the problem of cyberbullying to the surface again. The number of reported cases of violation of human rights on the Internet in Japan has remained high, and in 2017, its number hit a record and surpassed 2,200 (Ministry of Justice, 2020). Why do people say something that will obviously hurt someone? What gives them the right to tweet those insulting words? One of the reasons lies in the way they communicate their opinions and thoughts through social media. Anonymity allows people to wear a mask, which has a strange power. When it is impossible to figure out who they are, their self-consciousness declines, and the phenomenon called “deindividuation” follows (Festinger, Pepitone, & Nwecomb, 1952; Zimbardo, 1969). In this situation, they may tend to pursue their own interest, and sometimes forget their belief and values and behave beyond social norms. They say something on the Internet that they would not speak to someone face-to-face because no one knows who leaves the harsh message. And also, anonymity leads them to misunderstand that they are a “judge” on the Internet. This situation creates a circular theory. Because they are a “judge,” everything they say is always true so they can say anything. This is extremely dangerous because it leaves no room for them to think carefully about what they are about to say.
Then what should we keep in mind when we use social media? We have to be aware that there is always a person on the other side of the screen. It may be just a word to us, but it is not only a word to someone who receives the message, but each word binds together and becomes countless. Though we may soon forget what we say on the Internet, our words will stay forever, tattooed in the mind of someone who is insulted by them. Social media may be a symbol of freedom of thought and speech but it cannot be the place where we are allowed to express whatever we want. In 2020, it was almost impossible for us, including celebrities, not to use social media. Celebrities create their accounts to communicate with their fans readily. They illustrate their specialties and gain fame by making the most of social media. Thus, there is no alternative better than this way for them. However, the easier it becomes for us to reach out to them, the more likely they are to directly receive our honest opinions. We cannot forget that they are humans too. Is it the price they have to pay to be famous? No. They are not a robot that can sort the messages into good ones and bad ones. They get hurt as much as we do. We cannot let them be the outlet of our stress.
Morality does not seem to catch up with the development of technology. Without morality, social media platforms would turn into war sites with words for weapons. But words can also become a way to stop this war. Before we tweet or say something, we should take a moment to review and rethink our comments. We decide what kind of power we give to words. We cannot throw our hearts along with a word. Let us remember how powerful words are. Words can inspire us, encourage us, and save us. I am waiting for the time when heartwarming and positive words fill our hearts and lives.
Ministry of Justice. (2020). Cases of human rights infringement. Retrieved November 4, 2020, from http://www.moj.go.jp/content/001316959.pdf.
Principles of Social Psychology. (2015). Retrieved November 4, 2020, from https://open.lib.umn.edu/socialpsychology/.