#Art + Culture

Influencer Deaths And How Internet Communities Are Facing Grief Up Close

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Sophia Cheung accident: The frequency of social media influencer deaths has, it seems, matched the tragic speedy pace of the community’s progress. Every new app, every new feature on those apps, every new follower gained and lost have become decisive cogs in the wheel of how our youth generation is experiencing life.

Instagram celebrity Sophia Cheung and TikTok sensations Swavy and Caitlyn Loane’s names have now joined the protracting list of young deaths that could have been avoided. Or maybe perhaps couldn’t have still, but one is inclined to think so in regretful sorrow.

In the case of Cheung, the 32-year-old fell to her death last week while on an outing to a waterfall in Hong Kong with friends. All about her here. Swavy’s end, meanwhile, was a more violent one with the 19-year-old dying in an act of gun violence in Delaware. Loane, also aged 19, reportedly died by suicide in Australia.

Again, these are lives lost only this month.

Last year, the upward ticking COVID-19 deaths were routinely compounded by news of untimely internet influencer deaths by suicides, murders, assaults and natural causes. Dazhariaa (18) and Alexis Sharkey (26) were prominent names to come out of the West. In India, tragedies charted even lower age brackets.

The death by suicide of 16-year-old TikTok star Siya Kakkar in New Delhi in June 2020 sent shockwaves across the nation. A result of the rotten underbelly of the internet beyond the glamour? Dejection brought on by lack of validation got from likes?

These are real, urgent issues that plague internet users across the board and hence, were offered as projected reasons behind Kakkar’s reported suicide; though none were officially made public by authorities probing the case. These deaths should bother us because they concern people we may know or follow virtually.

The billions-strong communities across social media platforms are tightly stitched together by influencers whose growth and relevance heavily rely on fanfare from followers who are more than willing to ensure a steady supply of fanfare for their favourite stars. Why shouldn’t they be? They keep them both entertained and envious. And that can be a potent addiction.

So when an influencer death comes to light, the torment of it is widespread – think: global – as an entire generation of young internet users are left to grapple with one of life’s most complex, inevitable experiences at an outrageously early age.

The Social Dilemma, a Netflix documentary released last year, gives an incisive look into how Silicon Valley tech giants tactfully pull the strings to keep netizens hooked to the internet and hence, them. It’s chilling the way the internet is reorganising the youth’s perceptions about the world, events and themselves.

Both Instagram and TikTok have over a billion monthly users, and the numbers are ever-growing.

Against that background and those numbers, questions abound on the way internet usage exists currently and what its eventual development will bring. More deaths? More grief? A massive, imminent shakedown of our internet world is essential. Deaths of social influencers not only impacts their loved ones, it impacts their digital community’s mental health too. While many factors may not be in our control, the least we can do, is to talk about grief and how to deal with it then.

Views expressed are the author’s own.