‘Debby’ from Toronto’s tragic death is a 'cautionary tale’ for media, social media audiences everywhere

·3 min read
Alexis Matos aka Debby (GoFundMe/Chantal Bos)

Last week reports circulated that Toronto social media personality Alexis Matos, known as Debby, died from a drug overdose in a shelter, which has raised questions about the exploitation of people online, seemingly as a way to garner clicks and social media traffic.

While many people online are calling her a “Toronto legend,” several individuals pointed out that Debby being ridiculed online, largely associated with videos posted by 6ixBuzz, was a way to gain viewers. Many of the videos of Debby showed her acting erratic in public, with people taunting and fighting her. She was also vocal about her depression and drug use.

“Media know what content will get clicks and comments,” Dr. Evie Psarras, a celebrity and social media expert, said in a statement to Yahoo Canada. “That’s all that matters, not the content itself, but the response. That is exploitation.”

Social media fame or fame in general operates on the exploitation of a person, their image, situation, or emotions. This situation in particular is tragic.Dr. Evie Psarras, Celebrity and Social Media expert

Psarras agrees that this is a “cautionary tale for media and their practices,” where something deemed entertainment initially can have dire consequences.

A tweet posted on Nov. 2 on the 6ixBuzz Twitter account states that those involved with the account “actually cared for her sent her money and tried to sign and give her opportunities to stay out of trouble.” But that didn’t stop some people from criticizing the exploitation of her struggles.

While each individual made the independent decision to watch a video of Debby, share a link, comment on this Debby content, now largely considered online bullying, Psarras believes that ultimately the ethical responsibility still lies with the outlets creating, posting or sharing this content.

“We definitely have a responsibility here to think deeply about what we give our attention to,” she added. “Our likes, follows, comments, and reactions online are valuable to media platforms.”

“Thinking critically about our actions and role in the media sphere can send a message to news outlets about the type of content that should fly. However, the brunt of the work should rest on media in my opinion.”

It’s impossible to hide from the fact that we live in a world where clicks, likes, views, comments, followers are largely seen as our currency, with an expectation that people are willing to share their personal lives online and face the trolling that comes with doing that.

While maybe in the past we rushed to read about our favourite movie star or music artist, now we operate with the knowledge that it’s always possible for someone to be the next big “internet star” or one video that makes people laugh can lead to someone becoming “internet famous.” But what we really need to be asking ourselves is, what are the costs of those decisions?

“We understand fame today...as something that can happen if you expose all your private moments,” Psarras commented. “We demand everyone be ‘authentic’ but even that is curated.”

We have learned how to self exploit ourselves online for personal gain [and] fame. It’s considered weird if you don’t use social [media] and don’t share details of your life online… People’s livelihoods depend on (over)sharing online. We have to remind ourselves and in turn remind media platforms...that we don’t owe anyone access to all of us. We can keep something for ourselves. Boundaries are good.Dr. Evie Psarras, Celebrity and Social Media expert

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