Online 'mob mentality' criticised in wake of 'cruel' backlash against dead Brisbane student

Friends and experts have weighed in on the death of Wilson Gavin, a Brisbane student involved in the controversial protest of a children's event hosted by drag queens on Sunday.

On Monday, it was confirmed that Gavin, 21, died by suicide less than 12 hours after footage of the University of Queensland Liberal National Club (UQLNC) protest emerged on social media.

In an interview with, a friend of Gavin's said the 21-year-old was ruthlessly trolled with insults and violent messages after footage of the club's "drag queens are not for kids" chant became widely circulated.

The friend said within hours, Gavin's family had been tracked down and harassed online, the University of Queensland receiving messages urging for Gavin's enrollment to be terminated. 

Senior lecturer, philosopher and writer Dr Russell Blackford told the outlet that social media's "mob" mentality is "devastating" and "destructive" - especially to those embroiled in scandal or controversy.

"One of the things that worries me is the sheer glee and cruelty that can be shown by these mobs when they're out to destroy people," Dr Blackford said.

He said social media "storms" can have "sheer psychological impacts" on targeted individuals. People can lose their jobs, become estranged from their family or experience mental health issues as a result of trolling and online harassment.

"In the old days, there might've been a newspaper story locally, a student might've been reprimanded at their university, their organisation might've been disavowed... now, some people actually want the total destruction of that person."

Journalist Jennine Khalik tweeted that despite the disruptive and upsetting nature of the student protest, she was uneasy with the vicious way in which Gavin was "held to account".

"We don’t know why he did what he did, but get this: everyone is problematic to a degree and to someone else. But we are so harsh on each other."

A woman who has identified herself as Gavin's aunt on Twitter confirmed her nephew had died by suicide, calling him a "tormented young man" with a "lovely heart" who "lost his way in life".

When news of Gavin's death broke on Monday, many of those who posted violent tweets aimed at the 21-year-old deleted all evidence of their online attack.

The Liberal National Party of Queensland disaffiliated themselves from the university club late last year, with the LNP state executive requesting "the club to desist from using the party's name and colours".

Vicki Howard, a Liberal National Party councillor for the Brisbane City Council, told the Brisbane Times that the Drag Storytime event is presented by experienced, fully-trained entertainers with Blue Card registration, which all entertainers are required to hold if they are working with children. 

Drag Storytime, which has been held a number of times in the past, is designed to promote "inclusion, tolerance and diversity in the local community", Howard said.

Where to find help and support: 

Shine (domestic violence) - 0508 744 633

Women's Refuge - 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE)

Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737

What's Up - 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787)

Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland

Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email or online chat

Samaritans - 0800 726 666

Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757

Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Shakti Community Council - 0800 742 584

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