I’m very aware that this is a life. Not a topic for discussion or a place for analysis.
The death of Caroline Flack has illuminated how easily social media is able to facilitate verbal abuse and how underdeveloped our conversation surrounding mental health truly is.
Sadly. this conversation has required the loss of a life as it’s catalyst. More than one life, but Caroline it seems, will be the torch for those that cannot see their way, the light at the end of the tunnel for those for whom it was too late.
From what I have been seeing online, in the press and on prime-time television, the theme is largely of blame. Who can we blame? Who’s at fault? Where can we point the finger?
The press has fallen under scrutiny for how they reported the private domestic assault between Caroline and her partner, which flooded the news prior to the airing of the latest series of Love Island. Was this story of public interest? It’s debateable, one could argue, that not reporting this series of events would enable, and to contextualise it always helps to flip the gender stereotypes and perhaps assume a phrase which may have been used in this instance, a ‘wife-beater’ to continue their position as presenter of arguably the most popular programme on television. However, in the same breath, this was a singular incident, 999 was dialled from a private landline and the ‘victim’ decided not to press charges. In an un-published Instagram post released following Caroline’s death, she insists that it was an argument, a moment of rage, a relatable singular mistake. Arguably the press does fall under legislation and to an extent is held accountable for false reporting, of course when every media outlet publishes the same story, hammering home the same narrative, the person under scrutiny is bound to feel targeted. The stories printed in the press are only the beginning however, as our online community entitles everyone with a digital presence to an opinion, the comment sections of online publications are a hot pot for abuse. Similarly, as we all know, social media enables intrusive, hideous comments which can be detrimental to the mental health of the person who’s inbox is filling with such vivid vocabulary.
The difficulty is, with this type of call to action and a desire to place blame, there are so many grey areas. Already in place, there are regulatory laws that flag content driven abuse which is undoubtedly offensive to any person that may view it. However, the ability to flag abuse of trolling content that is offensive solely to the individual, is far more difficult. As it stands, one could be grossly offended by a comment or a particular piece of content, but not regarding to the law. This is a complicated shift and must reflect our society as it stands, as this provides a risk of facilitating those that take offense to a woman breastfeeding or detailed analysis of gender reassignment surgery, for example. Violence, threatening language and abuse are unacceptable but targeted, personal opinions are as it stands, largely unregulated. If we were to here those words shouted at a person in a public place, we would call the police. How then do we monitor this public sphere, where free speech is encouraged, and a screen stands between the abuser and the abused.
Caroline is not here to tell us what factors drove her to feel so lost that taking her own life felt like the most appeasing option. We are at risk of trivialising her death to suit one narrative, to blame one institution, one section of our society. The press, the government, the police, social media trolls; blame does not lie on the lap of one body. It is a silver lining that this tragic death is evoking questions, making us reassess the way that our society operates in all aspects, but in blaming, we lose sight of all contributors. There will always be blame in a case like this, events, words, decisions, things which could have been done differently that we can mull over for eternity.
I hope that this death, like so many others, is not in vain. I hope that the Instagram tributes, the amended press reports, and the immense coverage is not just smoke and mirrors to hide the fact that our society can be nasty without consequence. That our words, because they are typed have no weight, be that positive or negative, because until something changes, it is just words. How do we protect vulnerable people from such an accessible platform? How do we shift our vocabulary underneath the surface of accounts that proudly hashtag BEKIND? It is the sense of entitlement to a person who openly exists online and holds the status of celebrity. It is the bombardment of singular characters in the press for the enhancement of click bait. It is the gaps in legislation that do not yet fully understand the complexities of the online sphere. It is the vulnerability that lies beneath the smile of the friend that is always ok. It is the pressure cooker created by perfectionism in our society. It is reality TV presenting the opportunity for fast fame and intimacy to the lives of those we do not know. We cannot blame any singular component for this recipe of disaster.
Blame is everywhere, so the energy, the anger, the disappointment must go into finding the answer, not the problem.
Perhaps being kind is the ideal, but not every body has the desire to be kind. This tragedy hammers home the fact that we do not know what happens behind closed doors, despite endless news coverage, as there is always more than one side to a story. The echoes in my head say ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.’ It may not be in you at the moment, or in our climate to be kind, but this does not mean that your cruelty needs to be voiced. Some things are better off unsaid.
If you need to talk to someone, talk. Do not suffer in silence. There is a lot to live for, even if it’s just searching for the answer to all of the problems listed above.
Help is there if you know where to look. x