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From defamation on social media networks to actual suicide

Two weeks before Christmas, Flavio came home from university in São Paulo, had lunch with his parents and locked himself in his room. At 2:30 a.m., the intercom in the flat woke his parents.


Frei Betto


The doorman told them he would come up to talk to them. They thought it was a robbery. The burglars would have forced the employee to make the tenants open the doors. When they heard the doorbell ring, the couple looked through the peephole. The doorman was surrounded by policemen. Flavio had jumped from the tenth floor. He was twenty years old and an only child. In the note he left, he attributed his decision to the unjust accusation made against him by the university’s Feminist Collective. They had included his name on the list of “harassers”. It was then deleted. But the outrage had already prompted the boy to make the deadly gesture of protest.

At the seventh day mass I compared Flavio’s suicide to that of the rector of the Federal University of Santa Catarina, Luiz Carlos Cancellier, in 2017. Unjustly accused of corruption, he could not stand the slander. Like him, Flavio was the victim of a digital assassination. I remembered Friar Tito de Alencar Lima, my fellow disciple of the Dominican Order, who also took his own life in August 1974.

Cruelly tortured by the military dictatorship after his capture in 1969, in January 1971 the kidnappers of the Swiss ambassador demanded the release of 70 prisoners, including Tito. Banished from the country, he went into exile in France. The after-effects of the viciousness manifested themselves as a mental imbalance.

“It is better to die than to lose one’s life,” he wrote in his Bible. According to his psychiatrist, Titus killed himself to avoid insanity. He took his own life with his own hands.

In the past, the Catholic Church excluded suicides from the right to funeral honours, as other religious institutions still do. This attitude stemmed from a misinterpretation of the suicide of Judas Iscariot. Judas was not execrated for killing himself, but for betraying Jesus. Today the Catholic Church trusts in the mercy of God, of whom we are all sons and daughters, and in the salvation of those who threaten his life. I met Flavio on a trip abroad and told his parents that he was the son I would like to have had. He had not been baptised, but intended to be. According to Christian theology, Flavius received the “baptism of desire”. He also had his baptism of blood.

Like Jessica Canedo, Flavio was a victim of digital networks and cyberbullying.

Social media networks are useful and necessary, like kitchen knives. And as dangerous as they are, because they can kill reputations, induce violence, exacerbate individualism and narcissism.

In the same way that we are taught not to use knives against our adversaries, nor the car to run them over, it is necessary to perfect the regulation of networks in order to avoid “fakeocracy” with its slander, perjury and defamation with impunity, and its serious consequences for people’s honour.

Freedom of expression, like freedom of movement, requires limits. I cannot drive my car on the pavement or enter my neighbour’s house without asking permission or being invited. Likewise, no one has the right to spread slander. Flavio left this life in defence of his dignity. He put a full stop to his career of integrity. To paraphrase Italo Calvino, Flavio preferred to be absent so that outsiders would not see him as a man whose morals were split in two halves. PL

(Translated by Cristina Popa – Email: – Photos: Pixabay

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