Earlier this year, Kehlani was up for her first Grammy. This week, Kehlani was hospitalized after attempting to commit suicide, the R&B singer revealed in a now-deleted Instagram post. “Today I wanted to leave this earth,” Kehlani, 20 – whose last name is Parrish, though she goes by her first name professionally – captioned a photo of an IV in her arm as she rested in a hospital bed. “[I’m] being completely selfish for once.”

Like Kehlani, I’m from Oakland: A place where a high value is placed on the development of a real community. For most Oakland natives, social media is a platform to raise awareness around issues that adversely affect communities like ours, from hyper-gentrification to suicide.  I watched in horror this week while a fellow native (Khelani) and a rising artist was slut-shamed and pummeled for a situation that should have never been public in the first place. The culture of celebrities in the age of social media causes many personal situations to be made public.

Sometimes, it seems as though social media brings out the worst in all of us — the vengeful part that asks why we should care about someone else’s problems when it has felt as though our problems haven’t received care. Why shouldn’t we laugh at the misfortune of others when we’ve been laughed at, too? It’s exactly that question that should make us take care to show someone else the love that we wish we’d had.

I remember coming to my nephew’s aid who was relentlessly bullied in middle school because the other boys considered him effeminate. I never said, “Oh well — they called me fat.” I just stood up for him. When my homegirl’s guy tried to holler at another girl in front of me, I never said, “Well, we all get played.” I just stood up for her. Real life situations should inform the way we behave online, instead of allowing the protection of a screen to play up our insecurities and excuse our misbehavior. Don’t demonize or dismiss Kehlani. Stand up for her.

Unless we plan to change the phrase “online community,” to something else, we should reconsider the damaging ethos we’ve created in places built to share both our struggles and triumphs in a global setting. We know it’s not all wedding announcements, graduations and baby showers. That’s not the totality of real life, yet the autonomy that online profiles provide allows us to shape the world’s perception of us. We’d rather leave out the breakups, the bankruptcies and the blinding moments when we make terrible life decisions.

We’ve almost all been depressed or down in the dumps before. We’ve almost all had messy love lives. We’ve all made mistakes. But it’s our community, friends and advocates who keep us privately grounded. As a celebrity, Kehlani wasn’t given that choice, but all of us had a choice in the way we responded. 

Let’s do better.

Have you or anyone you known ever been bullied online? How did you deal with it? Let us know in the comments below.

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