Actions Have Consequences, Even From Behind A Keyboard
On Saturday, February 15, news of Caroline Flack’s death sent shock waves across the country after the TV presenter was found dead in her home at the age of 40. A family lawyer later confirmed she had taken her own life.
Since Caroline’s tragic death, social media platforms have been awash with tributes to the former Love Island presenter, saying how loved she was and how much she would be missed.
More than anything though, people have been calling for an end to the toxic cancel culture that ultimately played a part in her death, following accusations the 40-year-old assaulted her boyfriend in December last year.
Caroline was due to stand trial accused of assaulting 27-year-old Lewis Burton on March 4. Despite the presumption of innocence still being in place in UK law – the legal principle whereby people are considered innocent until proven guilty – the presenter had effectively already stood trial for her purported actions.
Because, although a verdict had yet to be reached in a court of law, Caroline instantly became guilty in the minds of the public. Everywhere you looked on social media, people were branding the presenter all kinds of names, each tweet a variation of the same notion – she was guilty and therefore deserved all the hate she was receiving.
To make it clear, I’m not saying Caroline wasn’t guilty, nor am I saying she was – that was for the trial in court to decide. What I am saying is, regardless of whether the allegations against her were true or not, nobody deserves to be hounded so much they feel the only way out is to take their own life.
It’s possible to take the abuse allegations seriously and still mourn a life lost too soon, just as it’s possible to recognise the way celebrities are treated is often abhorrent and unforgiving. It’s also possible to recognise all of our own faults in all of this.
The presenter’s close friend and colleague Laura Whitmore perhaps explained it best, speaking on her BBC Radio 5 Live show yesterday morning, February 16 – just one day after Caroline died.
Addressing the tragedy in her opening link, Whitmore said:
Be kind. Only you are responsible for how you treat others, and what you put out in the world. I’ve had messages, I’ve been harassed for just doing my job and this is where the problem is.
I want to use my platform, this platform, to call people out. Because it’s gone too far. Your words affect people. To paparazzi and tabloids looking for a cheap sell, to trolls hiding behind a keyboard, enough… To everyone, be kind in what you say.
Every time a celebrity takes their own life, we vow to be kinder. We vow that this time, it’s going to be different. We vow to change any behaviours that might contribute to such tragedies as this one.
Then a week passes… then a month… and gradually that person’s name stops appearing in the news or online. So what do we do? We revert back to our old behaviours, suddenly forgetting what happened the last time we posted an insensitive or insulting tweet to someone behind the safety of our keyboards.
Claire Goodwin-Fee, a psychotherapist and co-founder of The First Women’s Club – an online positivity platform for women to support each other – told UNILAD it’s ‘easy’ for people to project their own feelings onto celebrities via social media, ‘particularly if somebody is struggling with feelings of insecurity and not feeling good enough’.
She explained how apps such as Twitter and Instagram make it easier for people to ‘project hate and criticism onto others in a spiteful way’, adding: ‘We have access to people in a way that perhaps we didn’t have before’.
Claire told UNILAD:
As a society we dehumanise celebrities, and many have the attitude that they are ‘fair game’ as they are in the public eye. It’s hugely damaging and ultimately bullying, however you look at it.
People feel both connected and disconnected to their emotions; they feel strongly about how they feel but seemingly have no awareness of what the other person may feel to see these negative comments. [They] are disconnected from the painful reality of what that is like to be the recipient of these nasty comments.
I believe the description of social media is incorrect. Often it isn’t socialising, but judgement, and ultimately it’s big business.
If social media didn’t exist, Caroline would have still faced judgement from the courts, just not from us and not so publicly. If social media didn’t exist, she wouldn’t have experienced such a pile-on of hatred – frequently exacerbated by the tabloids – at a time when she was already at her lowest.
If social media didn’t exist, things could have turned out so very differently. As Caroline herself said, in one of the last Instagram posts she ever shared: ‘This kind of scrutiny and speculation is a lot for one person to take on their own’.
But social media does exist, and every day it seems to become a nastier and more vicious place, with trolls creating fake accounts for the sole purpose of sending abuse to whomever they choose to target.
More than that, people who aren’t trolls – people like you and me – somehow feel vindicated to express whatever opinion we have, just because we’re behind a keyboard.
At the end of the day, we can condemn the tabloids for the role they have played in tearing certain celebrities apart all we like. But what about the role we’ve played?
We’re the ones who consistently buy into that mentality; we’re the ones who are so quick to publicly judge people, without so much as a second thought as to what the consequences of our actions might be.
You only need to type ‘Meghan Markle’ and ‘Jameela Jamil’ into Twitter to figure that one out.
And now, rather than learning from our past mistakes in the wake of Caroline’s death, we’re instead placing our judgement elsewhere. The same people we’ve previously accused of hounding particular celebrities are now being hounded themselves.
Search for Piers Morgan, Dan Wootton, or just the general ‘media’ on Twitter and you’ll find thousands of tweets calling them ‘hypocritical scum’ and placing blame directly onto them. But for what purpose?
By doing so, we’re just ensuring this vicious cycle continues, all the while proving that the problem doesn’t lie with one specific person or one specific media company; it lies with all of us.
Instead of going along with the narrative that just one person or one organisation is to blame for this tragedy, we need to accept that we all hold part of the blame.
We’re all part of a wider problem, whereby celebrities are seen as ‘fair game’ simply because of who they are and what they do. And it needs to stop now.
What we need to do is take a step back and ask ourselves when we are going to start taking responsibility for our actions. Is it going to take another tragic death for us to sit back and realise that, whatever we’re doing, it clearly isn’t working?
Or are we going to start making steps to reflect on our own behaviour and recognise our own flaws? Either way, we need to stop this vicious blame game before it’s too late. It already is for some people.
Rest in peace, Caroline.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence, please don’t suffer alone. Call Samaritans for free on their anonymous 24-hour phone line on 116 123.
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677.