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The abuse of the sick on social media

Phenton Neymour.

About two weeks ago a photo circulated on social media of Phenton Neymour, a former minister of state and member of Parliament. He was thin standing next to his wife. There were rumors he died.

Some forwarded the picture mocking Neymour, who had a booming voice and presence before his illness.

Neymour was a guest on Thursday on “The Revolution” with Juan McCartney on Guardian Radio. He has colon cancer. He was diagnosed in February 2014.

He said when the pictures were circulated he received over 1,000 calls.

“I’ve been told at least about 20 times that I’m going to die quickly, and every time they’ve been wrong,” Neymour said.

“I remember one night in the emergency room, they said, ‘He’s going to go, let’s start planning his funeral while he could talk’.

“So I’ve been in a situation and luckily I was saved by Bahamian doctors.”

A week ago Neymour sent a voice note to the people of Exuma, the constituency he sought to represent, expressing his disappointment that the photo was circulated and “cruel” and “unchristian” statements were made.

Neymour said while the rumors were hurtful to him, they did more damage to his family.

His wife took it hard and he had to send her and his daughter out of the country, away from the negativity.

“It affected her greatly mentally; because here it is we are making fun of cancer, we are making fun of someone who is sick and that shows no compassion,” Neymour said.

“I mean what were they trying to prove other than to hurt me and hurt my family?

“And so, [my family] didn’t realize how painful politics could be.”

This is what we have become with social media. Anonymous, malicious people create fake messages. Others receive and forward them without reflection. These messages include defamation; lies; character assassination; revenge porn; and other abuses.

Most view social media content without critical reflection. They see something striking and just share it. There is a human instinct to spread “new, striking information”.

Neymour by speaking out revealed the pain caused by social media abuse. Mocking a sick man hurt his family. It hurt him.

Those with cancer, whatever stage or type they have, should be given support and privacy. They are in a fight for their lives.

“I count each day as my last day, that’s how I live now,” Neymour said.

His father, two aunts and two uncles died of cancer.

“It’s a gene in our family. Unfortunately, it is what it is,” he said.

“And that is what drove me to go get my test.”

Think when you use social media. Don’t be part of the horde. Have empathy. Don’t facilitate the abuse of others.

Colon cancer diagnoses vary based on stage. The five-year survival rate is 92 percent for stage one. The five-year survival rate for stage four colon cancer is 11 percent.

Don’t make the plights of sick people worse by spreading lies, rumors and half-truths. We all have the self-control to do better. We just have chosen to be our worst selves with this new technology.

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