Opinion: Did we all play a role in Caroline Flack's death? 8 months ago

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.

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.

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?

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.