Opinion: Did we all play a role in Caroline Flack's death?
Is social media responsible for Caroline Flack's death?
That's the question that many people are asking, and the conclusion that many others have come to tonight in the wake of the sad announcement of the passing of the television star.
Of course, at this stage we don't have any of the details of the 40-year-old's untimely death, beyond a statement from her family confirming the unthinkable. Sky News also reported that a lawyer for the family had confirmed that Caroline had died by suicide.
Online, people are pointing to social media as the trigger factor.
It was only a matter of time before the media and a prolonged social media dogpile, hers lasted for MONTHS, pushed someone completely over the edge. Rest In Peace Caroline Flack. This is fucking horrendous. ?
— Jameela Jamil ? (@jameelajamil) February 15, 2020
Already on Twitter, there are hundreds of thousands of users posting about their shock and heartbreak at hearing this news. Many are blaming a combination of the tabloid media and social media trolls for "pushing her over the edge". The anger and outrage are justifiable – but who exactly are people pointing the finger at? Who are the trolls?
A few years ago when I was working as a magazine editor, I commissioned a journalist to write a piece about online trolling. The idea was to talk to experts such as psychologists about what drives trolls – power? pleasure? perversity? – and to ask members of the public to examine the motivations behind their own online behaviour.
After weeks of trying, the writer had to eventually hold up her hands and say that she couldn't find anyone who would talk about trolling behaviour. Even people who had received widespread criticism for online attacks that they'd made had nothing to say about it. It wasn't that they were scared to speak out, it was just that none of them thought that they had done anything wrong.
None of us wants to think that we might be the trolls. That we are the trolls.
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Been advised not to go on social media ... but I wanted to say happy Christmas to everyone who has been so incredibly kind to me this year..... this kind of scrutiny and speculation is a lot to take on for one person to take on their own... I’m a human being at the end of the day and I’m not going to be silenced when I have a story to tell and a life to keep going with .... I’m taking some time out to get feeling better and learn some lessons from situations I’ve got myself into to.I have nothing but love to give and best wishes for everyone ❤️
Ok, so not many of us will have posted extreme threats or obscene comments, but together we create a culture where that negativity thrives. We use social media as a place to criticise, complain and attack. And in this cancel culture we love nothing better than to take offence, playing a very public game of 'who's high horse is highest?'.
Then, when we hear something like the tragic news of Caroline Flack's death, instead of examining ourselves we point the finger at the likes of her management or the Love Island producers for failing to protect her.
How can we possibly think that the answer to online bullying is to train the victim instead of stopping the offender?
I feel so sorry for Caroline Flack and her evident suffering. May she rest in peace. My sympathy to her poor family ???
— Marian Keyes (@MarianKeyes) February 15, 2020
Tonight, I'm asking myself honestly if I have ever been an online troll... and there is one thing tugging at the back of my conscience. Years ago I tweeted that a certain celebrity had become so thin that she was a dangerous role model for body conscious younger girls. As a result of that statement, I was myself trolled on Twitter. As the replies rolled in, I was called a woman hater and told that I deserved to die for what I'd said. It was a deeply upsetting experience and at the time I felt like the victim. But was I the original troll?
Thankfully that celebrity is alive and well. But what if she had taken her own life, and what if tweets like mine had been the reason?
Social media may have been the cause or a contributing factor in the death of Caroline Flack, but equally it may have had nothing to do with it. But the fact that we all think it's possible that online trolling pushed a young and talented TV star to suicide is scary in itself.
This has to be a watershed moment for how every single one of us behaves on social media from now on. We are all the trolls.