Luo Xiao Mao Mao Zi death: Chinese influencer Luo Xiao Mao Mao Zi passed away on October 15 after she consumed a pesticide-laced beverage during a Livestream. Zi had nearly 678,000 followers on the Douyin app, China’s answer to TikTok. Time and again she had spoken about dealing with depression, also revealing that she had been hospitalised due to her mental health issues for over two months. And yet when Zi drank pesticide during a live session, some of her viewers went on to urge her to drink it quickly, as per some screenshots circulating online.
Luo Xiao Mao Mao Zi’s friend said after her death that while the influencer was struggling to cope with the separation from her ex-boyfriend, her intention behind consuming the pesticide was not to end her life. Reportedly, Zi wanted to seek her ex’s attention.
Zi’s story is a cautionary tale for influencers, who give their followers the remote control of their life. Yes, as an influencer your social media presence governs everything from your earnings to your lifestyle, but where does it all stop? What happens when a personal crisis plays out in front of viewers? When the mental health issues of an individual get exposed to a group of people who might not take them seriously, or worse, would deliberately pass comments that could have a negative outcome for a susceptible individual?
One can’t absolve social media users of accountability in this case. Not every action can be trivialised in the name of entertainment. Drinking pesticides live on air is not entertainment. Someone should have alerted the authorities while the entire episode was unfolding in a public space.
Secondly, social media platforms need to acknowledge their responsibility towards the well-being of their users and creators too. Zi had repeatedly spoken about her mental health issues online, there was a constant dialogue happening in the comments section during the Livestream- people were urging her to stop, but some were egging her too. How was it not being monitored? Why are no mechanisms in place to check for triggers and actions of self-harm in real-time?
According to World Health Organisation data from 2019, over 264 million people globally suffer from depression, whereas 45 million and 20 million people suffer from Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, respectively. These are not small numbers, and yet what concrete actions have various social media platforms taken to ensure that people like Zi are not left at the mercy of their viewers? What kind of alerts and filters have social media platforms put into place to safeguard their users?
Influencers worldwide need to unify and ask all these questions. They need to go beyond sharing quotable quotes and talking about mental health just because it is in vogue. They have the influence and power necessary to question user behaviour and apathy of platforms that make millions off their talent and reach. Nothing will change unless social media influencers wake up and realise that the treatment they are being meted out by platforms and some of their followers is both cruel and unfair. That is the only way to ensure that no influencer goes through what Luo Xiao Mao Mao Zi did on that fateful day.
Views expressed are the author’s own.