This article contains the mention of suicide.
On 15 February, TV presenter Caroline Flack took her own life and was found dead in her flat in East London. Generally, with such an untimely death of a beloved celebrity, plenty of speculation follows as people try to piece together the last few months of their life to discover the cause. With Flack’s death, there was no such speculation. Instantly people took aim at the media who had recently dragged her name and reputation through the mud, because of an alleged assault she made against her boyfriend, Lewis Burton, while he was sleeping. The attack resulted in the loss of her job as the host of ITV2’s ‘Love Island’, and endless unwanted media attention that is said to have attributed to her suicide.
The news has reflected outpours of support for Flack’s family, anger towards the media, and scrutiny of how such situations are handled. It’s a shame Flack isn’t around to see it because it took her suicide for people to question the damaging nature of the media’s relentless pursuit of Flack, and people like her, is as predictable as the English weather. Why does it take death for us a society to question and prosecute our handling of a situation that in actual fact, has absolutely nothing to do with us?
Studying journalism taught me that, the kind of journalism that champions hate, and is reminiscent of trolling, was as an insult to the profession. It’s awful how tabloid newspapers have spent too long making money from the misery of others that it has created a culture of journalism that takes it upon itself to play the role of judge, jury and executioner. Couple that with the immediacy of social media and online news, and you’re left with the tools to say whatever you want and often without counsel. Then depending on the reaction from the public, delete it later or issue a 240-character apology that gives you a free pass to make the same mistake again.
If we’re honest with ourselves, it’s not just the media, that is the problem. When I saw the number of twitter users grieving Flack’s death, I couldn’t help but feel pessimistic. Of all the social media platforms, it’s common knowledge that twitter users are the most brutal. Celebrities often take a break from twitter because it is the place where free speech comes to die. The response Flack got on twitter from regular people like you and me, could’ve played a role in her suicide just as much as the negative media attention. We’ve all seen what twitter can do to a celebrity: only a week ago, Jameela Jamil was forced to come out about her sexuality because of the extreme amount of hate she received for being a judge on a new show about Ballroom culture. Meghan Markle suffered at the hands of the media enduring racist remarks and casual misogyny, making it no surprise the Duke and Duchess of Sussex stepped down from their royal duties.
Twitter users use their platform to say things most of us wouldn’t say to our worst enemies, let alone to a celebrity we only know for the personality they portray on TV. The ‘cancel culture’ that is rampant on twitter is toxic and dangerous but encouraged when you see tabloids the following suit and perpetuating the same messages on their front pages or online. They are the first to act this way, and then the first to ‘cancel’ anyone else that does. Calling for the media to change how they report on issues like this is not enough. We need more serious sanctions, for what is primarily cyberbullying, for those in and out of the media because they can both potentially lead to a fate like Flack’s.
It shouldn’t have taken her death for people to realise that the way we interact with each other is on a level of savagery that no one person deserves to endure on such a scale.
The way we, as a society, hold up celebrities, in our tabloids, in our news, only gives the cancel culture more power. To prevent situations like this happening again, instead of a false pursuit to raise awareness about mental health, the media needs a complete overhaul in their tactics and need to be brought to account about their true intentions.
My thoughts are with Caroline Flack’s friends and family, and I hope that real change instead of empty platitudes come from it as a result.
If you are someone who needs help with issues like this, please contact The Samaritans 116 123 or the cyber bullying helpline 0808 800 2222.