In the UK this week, a woman of 40 took her own life. Caroline Flack was a well known TV presenter and was about to stand trial for a domestic violence incident where she had had an argument with her boyfriend back in December. Police were called, he didn’t want to prosecute but the Criminal Prosecutions Service decided there should be a prosecution. It is a tragedy. She was a widely respected and beautiful woman who was really good at her job.
I mention Caroline because as soon as a situation like this happens everyone has an opinion and everyone starts apportioning blame. The fact is we will never know exactly why Caroline took her own life but we do know there was a history of depression and anxiety, that she suffered cripplingly low self esteem, that there was the impending court case, that she was not being able to have contact with her boyfriend despite it being Valentine’s Day ( he stood by her and did not want the case to go to court but they were prohibited from seeing each other) and factors that we don’t know about. she was also worried that her career in TV might be over.
What I have left out is the way she was treated by mainstream media and “social media”. Some of the papers that wrote salaciously and intrusively about her personal life only weeks ago suddenly showed hypocritical concern for her once she died. Some removed negative stories that they had previously written about her. Everyone in the UK is familiar with the poison that comes from certain papers.
But it is the role of social media that comes up time and time again and did so again in this case. The blanket term social media gets used indiscriminately and often gets the blame when something like this happens. People had indeed used platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to both praise and attack Caroline. When she briefly dated a young man 13 years her junior she was called a “paedophile” by some users, others labelled her a “whore” when she attended court back in December for wearing a short skirt. Uncensored, hateful, unjustified misogynist bile and hatred, the dark side of social media. When I tell people I blog the reaction often is, “ Be careful, blogging is part of that social media stuff, it’s dangerous!”
I then have to point out that there is nothing bad about social media in itself, it’s how it’s misused that is dangerous. Yet, certain forms of social media do lend themselves to being misused more than others. I use Facebook just to hear what’s going on in my local neighbourhood and occasionally to send birthday greetings. But I do see people who use it to continually receive acknowledgement that they are OK as people, “you look great babe”, “fantastic” often short, vacuous words and phrases that prop up often fragile egos. It’s like a collective dumbing down of communication. Even death is now often reduced to cliche and trite sentiment on some of these platforms. Real, raw naked grief is often replaced by safe, surface sentiment,”RIP, she’s with the angels,”. Maybe I’m being unfair but I worry that the flip side of this is the short, empty hateful message equally devoid of depth but so harmful to the recipients.
Then there is blogging, and what I have learned is that blogging is a form of social media but it stands apart from the others in that in the blogging world people genuinely spend the time trying to connect to each other. Bloggers tend to support one another but it’s support that comes with weight and depth and meaning. People take time to read each other’s posts , take time to reflect and comment on what people are sharing. The trolls tend to stay away because it’s not short snappy communication. Speaking personally I have learned and grown through the blogging experience. Many times I’ve read posts and thought, “Oh yes, that’s a good point” or “I think I’ll try that”. Maybe I’ve been lucky in that the area I blog in is people giving up alcohol and trying to improve their lives, but I think it’s more to do with the format, that taking time to compose and develop their thoughts, to show meaningful concern and compassion, to give honest feedback but always without venom or belittling anyone. Of course if celebrities blogged I’m sure they would still attract the negative responses, but it does seem to be the platforms such as Twitter and Instagram that the trolls really home in on. They drop their globules of poison and move on.
If someone vulnerable asked my advice on using social media I would say, think about starting a blog, share only what you feel comfortable about sharing and be prepared to be supported in a meaningful way. If you go for other forms of social media you might get more instant gratification but be prepared for the people who troll that world just looking for opportunities to abuse, denigrate and destroy.
What seems really sad is that celebrities are pushed to have a social media presence. The TV networks encourage people to comment on Twitter and the presenters are expected to respond and post. What then happens is some users attack, denigrate and wear down the celebrities and where those celebrities have underlying issues the pressure from negative comments can be catastrophic. Caroline Flack was under a lot of pressure from her impending trial but the hurtful, cruel treatment she received online must have contributed to her fragile state. In this, our blogging community it’s a testament to the integrity of fellow bloggers that meanness, denigration and undermining are so rare. People are kind, constructive and supportive. We don’t always agree with each other but there’s always a huge amount of mutual respect. It would be great to see that replicated across other social media but whilst we have people who pour bile and vitriol from the safety of their smartphones, it seems we are going to have cases of people being damaged by exposure to unwarranted abuse.
I am just so pleased that within this form of social media, our blogging world, people can express themselves honestly and openly without fear or abuse and in the knowledge they will be accepted and held. Caroline Flack said in her last Instagram post that she had accepted shame and toxic opinions for over 10 years as being part of her job. It shouldn’t be something that anyone ever has to accept and it seems such a tragedy that she never experienced the positive experience online that many of us have been fortunate to experience with our blogs. That’s something this community can and should be proud of.