Trigger warning: discussion of suicide.
Yesterday afternoon the world received the tragic news that Caroline Flack had taken her own life.
Flack, 40, was a British television personality famous for her roles as a presenter for The X Factor and Love Island. She was a household name and a victim of relentless abuse on social media and from the tabloids.
Flack was an integral part of ITV’s Love Island’s success and a face that over 3 million people tuned in every night for during those famous six weeks of summer. She was undeniably a part of the show’s roaring success.
But her aspirations and achievements came with a deadly caveat. The more Caroline was on our screens, achieving her goals and impressive career, the more brutal the hate became and the more relentless the trolling and clickbait.
This is not to claim that Caroline was perfect, nor that the accusations against her are invalid or unimportant. We also cannot (and should not) speculate about the events surrounding her death.
But it is impossible to justify the abuse, clickbait and defamation she faced. It is also impossible for most of us to even begin to comprehend how she must have felt when yet another headline exaggerated, sensationalised, and outright lied about her personal life on an almost daily basis.
Many of us were raised to recount the phrase ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me’ in the face of bullies. How wrong we were. And this attitude is still so deeply integrated in media behaviour despite the pain and suffering so many have been through.
It seems screen time has disassociated us from reality. The moment someone appears on television (including reality television) we see them as characters, not people. This allows us to rip apart their every action and appearance as if they aren’t a real person with real feelings. Meanwhile, the individual has access to almost every single cruel thing said about them, by everyone all over the world, with a few taps on their mobile phone.
If you don’t believe the extent to which social media and the tabloids are partially responsible for this tragedy, you have only to look at the response to Flack’s death.
The Daily Mail published a tribute headline calling her ‘a troubled romantic who never did find true love’, feeding back into the same rhetoric in which successful women’s love lives are invasively picked apart, leaving them feeling vulnerable and scrutinised.
Meanwhile, The Sun deleted articles they had previously published scandalising Flack’s personal life. Attempting to rewrite history and their role in it.
Flack isn’t the first to struggle with the weight of such intense criticism. Yet, we seem to mourn, repent and promise to do better, before falling back into the same traps of online anonymity.
Flack’s friend and actress, Stephanie Davis shared a heartfelt video outlining her anger towards the tabloids, calling for stronger controls on what can be published to safeguard celebrities and people in the public eye.
Her petition on Change.org calls for the prevention of:
- Releasing information without evidence
- Unreliable sources
- Sharing information that will be detrimental to the celebrity’s mental health
- Taking and printing images without permission
- Releasing an individual’s private medical information
- Revealing an individual’s sexual orientation
- Leaking explicit photos, videos and revenge porn
- Unwanted trespassing of celebrity’s private residences
You can sign the petition and watch the video here.
Caroline Flack was a sister, daughter, girlfriend, friend and colleague. Regardless of your opinion on her, it is undeniable that the media needs to change. We have to be the collective force that stops prioritising clickbait and sensationalist headlines over the mental health of those in the public eye.
If this story or Caroline Flack’s death has affected you in any way, please use the following services to seek help or someone to talk to:
CALM, thecalmzone.net, 0800 585 858
Heads Together, headstogether.org.uk
Mind, mind.org.uk, 0300 123 3393
Samaritans, samaritans.org, 116 123