As someone who spends a lot of time online, it’s hard to imagine what life would be like without the option to constantly scroll through a timeline of funny tweets from strangers or perfectly airbrushed reality stars in order to kill time in the evenings or during my lunch break. It also occured to me that it’s very hard for me to imagine the online world without trolling. Why is that? Why has online hate (sadly) become the norm?
Following the devastating recent news about Caroline Flack’s suicide, there is a nationwide discussion happening about the relationship between social media and mental health – and rightly so. How many deaths will it take for social media companies to hold people accountable for the things they say online?
If you’ve tried to report something on social media, you’ll know how many hoops you have to jump through to get something flagged up or removed completely.
Growing up, I was taught that if someone is causing you grief online then it’s your responsibility to just log out or turn the computer off after all, it’s through a screen – it’s not like they can actually cause you harm right? Wrong. Whether you’re a teenager who’s a victim of online bullying, a celeb who posted something 10 years ago that you’re now being called out for or, a Love Island contestant being trolled for being ‘too fat’, things posted in the digital world can and do have real-life implications. Nobody deserves to be made to feel victimised online.
We’ve seen it in the tabloids for years. Did you know that some journalists – emphasis on some because we know lots of lovely journalists, actually make money from comparing which celebrity’s cellulite looks worse in a bikini? It’s then put on a front page for thousands of people to see, rather than talking about something newsworthy in the news. As well as papers, cancel culture has become a real problem online meaning that on a weekly basis, celebrities are becoming victims to modern day witch hunts. It’s really scary.
As a society, we currently rely on people’s mental strength and how well they cope with hate, rather than policing the trolls and holding them accountable for their actions. In many cases, this results in people grabbing their metaphorical weapon of choice, hounding someone until they can’t take anymore and then when they kill themselves, post tributes on the internet with accompanying inspirational hashtags such as #BeKind. The world as a collective community needs to stop this hypocrisy and be kinder in the first place. After all, social media was a tool created to connect people to one another, allow us to contact our families and friends, explore places we’ve never been to and most importantly, share pictures of cute dogs!
It would be an impossible task to track everything said online and it would be just as hard for celebrities to go through and report every nasty comment they receive. Maybe the change is less about how to police hate and more about cutting it off at the source. For example, we can all make small changes like not jumping on the bandwagon of speculative stories about celebs, not buying from news sources that profit from making people’s lives miserable and not giving attention to popular TV presenters who are glorified bullies but hide behind ‘being controversial’. If we all take on that mindset and think about how our words and/or actions have an impact, then maybe we could make a difference to online communities.
The news surrounding Caroline Flack has seen a flood of emotional tributes but these have now been overtaken by the demand for a new law – with a petition quickly gaining over 700,000 signatures to-date. David Yelland, a former editor of The Sun questioned “Did the tabloids kill her?” Tabloids along with social media “feed off each other in a way that creates a living hell for celebrities, it’s part of the toxic ecology they have to put up with.” he added. Is this what a life is worth now? To drag someone’s life through the wringer in order to purely sell a few more papers or to get a few more views online?
Of course, this is not the first time something like this has happened – with ex Love Islanders Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon suffering similar online abuse. But this new law could be a step in the right direction, alongside all of us making our own small differences, in order to put this type of uncalled for hate-culture to bed. We must therefore hope that the public outcry is strong enough to force the government to act accordingly.
I genuinely don’t know how to make a worldwide difference to trolling – and that thought renders me feeling disappointed and helpless. What I do know is that for my part I’ll stick to tweeting about causes I care about, tagging my friends in memes, posting cocktail boomerangs and certainly not leave hate comments on other people’s posts. It sounds trivial but if others do the same, along with tighter policing and laws in place to combat negativity, then we could find ourselves living in a kinder place where people can open up about how they feel without the fear of their words being used against them. The end goal, which is a want for many, is to have a digital world we’re proud to be a part of.