celebrity

Cancel culture is an epidemic. Caroline Flack was the latest casualty.

We are in the grips of an epidemic.

On the weekend former Love Island UK host Caroline Flack died by suicide.

We don’t know the exact circumstances surrounding her death. We cannot know what she was thinking or the source of such helplessness.

But we do know what the headlines looked like in the last week of her life.

Charged in December 2019 with assaulting her boyfriend, the tabloids reported on her every step. The day before she died, The Sun reported on a Valentine’s Day card mocking her with the words “I’ll f**king lamp you”.

The incessant scrutiny and criticism began in 2011, when the then 32-year-old X Factor host briefly dated One Direction’s Harry Styles, who was 17.

Since then, it never really stopped.

Just 10 weeks ago, 40-year-old Caroline posted the words: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Anything … we can literally choose to be anything ….

A post shared by Caroline (@carolineflack) on

While her alleged actions against her former boyfriend ought to have been interrogated, the vicious personal attacks were not.

“To the press, the newspapers, who create clickbait, who demonise and tear down success, we’ve had enough,” said Caroline’s friend and replacement Love Island host Laure Whitmore on Radio 5 Live on Sunday.

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“I’ve seen journalists and Twitter warriors talk of this tragedy and they themselves twisted what the truth is … Your words affect people. To paparazzi and tabloids looking for a cheap sell, to trolls hiding behind a keyboard, enough.”

Caroline was dragged into the modern day version of an archaic town square stoning in the months before she died.

And she’s the third Love Island UK death in 18 months.

Love Island contestant Sophie Gradon talked about the “horrific bullying” she was subjected to after leaving the show. She took her life three months later.

Nine months after that, fellow contestant Mike Thalassitis, another islander trolled after leaving the show and gaining instant fame, also ended his life.

Love Island deaths
Sophie Gradon, Mike Thalassitis and Caroline Fleck died within two years of each other. Images: Instagram/Getty.

In 2014, Australia's Next Top Model host Charlotte Dawson died by suicide in her Sydney home after a very long public battle with depression. She had also been vocal against the abuse she faced online for years. In 2012, she tried to expose the Twitter commentary  by retweeting hundreds of messages she'd received, calling out the language and threats she was exposed to every day. She ended up in hospital herself, with her spokesperson at the time saying "evidently words can hurt or Dawson wouldn't be in hospital."

In December 2017, porn star August Ames took her life a week after being embroiled in a Twitter controversy over cyberbullying and homophobia.

In January 2020, social media piled on a 21-year-old young Liberal Wilson Gavin who led a protest against a drag queen story-time event in Brisbane. The day after it surfaced on social media and a slew of hate filled commentary was thrown his way, Wilson took his life.

Charlotte Dawson
Australian TV presenter Charlotte Dawson died by suicide in 2015. Image: Instagram.
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Twitter didn't kill these people.

But that doesn't mean the insults don't have anything to do with their deaths.

Tabloid press is helping to fuel the cruel pastime - amplifying every ounce of criticism about a person they see gaining momentum, to cash in on the glee readers get from reading about someone crashing and burning on a public stage.

There are easy clicks in backlash and 'fall from grace' stories.

Today publications have taken aim at the Instagram videos of Bachelor in Paradise star Sam Cochrane, amplifying them beyond his 88,000 fans to their millions of followers.

When outlets label his behaviour as a "bizarre ranting apology" they're effectively offering Sam up for sacrifice - handing social media another reason to pile-on by giving the moment currency.

Sam Cochrane Tara Pavlovic
Bachelor in Paradise's Sam Cochrane is being offered up to trolls today. Image: Instagram.
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As soon as someone dies, the conversation changes in both the media and online from one that's derogatory to one that's laced in sympathy. But as more and more people die as a part of this insidious cycle, the symptoms aren't being recognised and treated before it's too late.

The Sun Flack
The Sun's tribute to Flack.

In every season of Married At First Sight, a pattern can be observed. Social media piles on the show's villains, and then those villains go public about the damaging effects of incessant trolling, and then we all realise they were edited and exploited, and then we finally shrug our shoulders and pretend that we had nothing to do with it.

New season, new villain, new pile-on.

abbie chatfield
Abbie, last year's Bachelor 'villian' has spoken about being trolled about everything from her sexuality to her body. Image: Instagram.
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When social media is given what they demand - an apology perhaps, or an admission of hurt - it still doesn't matter. Nothing matters while the storm is still in progress.

There's no defending yourself in the 21st world of social media. You're effectively placed in a modern-day pillory - forced to just sit there and take the heat until the angry mob gets tired.

Meghan Markle is perhaps one of the most trolled celebrities of all time. Yet when she tells the world she's not okay, as she did in a recent documentary, she is mocked.

WATCH: When Meghan gave this interview, she was mocked by many for admitting she wasn't okay. 

Video by ITV

While the deaths of Caroline, Charlotte, Wilson and August are complicated on a number of levels we can't pretend that the abuse they received online in the hours before their deaths didn't have something to do with it.

Cancel culture is an epidemic. And it's claimed numerous lives.

So, how do we plan to fix it?


If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

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