As I write this, we are all reeling from the news of another the tragic death of a celebrity that had been hounded by the media, social media and trolls. This time it is was the vivacious Caroline Flack. My heart is heavy.
Statistically it would seem that appearing on Love Island or any other reality TV show for that matter is more likely to contribute to an early death than terrorism and several known carcinogens combined.
It is of course, not so much the show itself but what happens around it and afterwards. Terry Pratchett put it best:
“Always remember that the crowd that applauds your coronation is the same crowd that will applaud your beheading. People like a show.”― Terry Pratchett
There are always contributing factors, life events, pre-dispositions, lifestyle, support network and other influences. But there is an obvious and undeniable relationship between public humiliations and cruel shaming via the media (social, press and otherwise) and these tragic events. We know this. We have seen it too often. The question is why and how this is allowed to continue and what part do we all play in it?
The price they pay for fame?
People often say of people in the public eye, “well, they knew what they were getting into, they chose that life”. But I don’t believe people can ever fully imagine or prepare for the level of hate and maligning we see via the media today. Knowing that you won’t be everyone’s cup of tea and expecting your fair share of bad reviews is one thing. Death threats and character assassinations are quite another.
There is often little resilience-training or emotional preparation for such visibility. How do you prepare for being the Nation’s darling one moment then vilified the next, with your career and reputation in tatters. A one-off misjudged tweet is enough to bring about such consequences; so fragile is the public’s whim and companies’ fear of subsequent backlash. Let alone being accused of something more nefarious.
These people are not super human, immune, or especially resilient to abuse. In some cases, if their main motivations are driven by external approval, they may possibly be even less resilient than most.
Those in the public eye are usually people that, like every one else, are just trying to do their best to get their needs met, earn a living using their skills and talents, be ‘successful’ (whatever that means for them), and pursue what they think will make them happy (rightly or wrongly). They are just doing it in a public forum where the risks and rewards are potentially both higher.
Celebrity and influencer culture is so heavily glamourised, celebrated and rewarded. But once someone appears to have ‘made it’ in the eyes of the public, its as if they lose all their rights to due care and respect. They get turned into the nation’s punching bag and a place to deflect and project all our own shortcomings and inner ‘boo boos’.
We apparently love an underdog but can’t stand anyone that’s a bit cocky and seems to be doing well for themselves, especially if they seem a bit smug about it. How very dare they ‘love themselves’, we’ll show them! It speaks volumes about the psyche of the British public. Our celebs must be humble, self depreciating and deeply flawed, like us. If not, we will not hesitate or hold back in bringing them down a peg or three.
The press does it because the public buys it.
The public buys it because there is a lot of people out there whose emotions feel like a box of frogs that have been on a long journey across a dirt road in the front basket of a pushbike, with no suspension, on a hot day: Not happy.
If a person struggles to make themselves feel happy or significant, has self-worth issues or feelings like envy, bitterness and disappointment, then a cheap, anonymous, shot at a celebrity that appears to have it all, may create fleeting feelings of relief and empowerment. This may be especially true if their chances of feeling those things through other means are limited. This does not make it ok.
Not just the famous
However, you don’t have to be a celebrity to suffer in this way. The tragedies that play out in the public eye are a more visible version of what is happening in many schools and phone screens around the world. It’s bullying, shaming and isolation. It is emotional cruelty, whatever medium it is happening across and no matter how big the audience. It usually stems from some form of jealousy or inadequacy.
It is the darker side of humanity, with the lights on, ‘memed’ for our entertainment.
The traditional media know it and exploit it and we have let them do so for too long.
What can we do about it?
As with many problems we encounter, the first place it is worth checking is with ourselves, to dig deep and explore honestly what role we play in allowing or participating in this.
Vote with you eyeballs, clicks and coins
The papers only sell hate because people buy it. The media only spread hateful stories because people click on them. Most of them are not the unbiased bringers of newsworthy events that they’d have you believe. They are businesses that make money out of your attention. If you stop giving them, or those kinds of stories, your attention, it will no longer be viable to continue in the manner in which they have been conducting themselves.
But can you help yourself from clicking on that headline? Can you bear not to know what she/he has done now? Whether you agree with the story or not, it already has your click. And perhaps you share it, with a ragingly disapproving review, but you have spread it to more eyeballs, clicks and ad revenue.
By boycotting papers and sites that spread hate, both as consumers and advertisers, we can vote with our money, clicks and attention – or lack there of. When we work collectively we are more powerful than they’d like us to believe.
But let’s get deeper.
The darker side of humanity has it’s potential in all of us; we are human and fallible. It can be triggered or awoken in us by different things according to our wounds and emotional maturity.
On an individual level, maturing as a fully functioning human being involves learning how to move out of the less desirable immature states of unbridled displays of emotion (anger/ neediness/ jealousy/ selfishness/ lack of appreciation of consequences etc.), to emotional maturity (self-regulation/ an appreciation of consequence/ empathy/ personal responsibility/ respect for others, etc.).
Part of maintaining a civilized society is about how it facilitates, encourages and supports this essential maturing in its people through education, families, societal structures, cultural messages, what’s accepted, rewarded and celebrated. Alongside how we manage the people that do not, cannot or will not display the level of development or consideration required for them to be a part of that society in a positive or healthy way (laws, consequences, rights, legal protection etc.).
This is not Utopia
Now, we do not live in a harmonious or perfect world full of perfect people. Some discord is inevitable and in most cases even desirable. We don’t want a dictatorship of full compliant robots, we are human, messy and emotional and we need space and freedom to be that and to grow from it. Freedom of speech, expression and personal liberties are essential for a healthy evolving society that works for all of the people that are part of it.
However, you have to start to wonder if we aren’t a ‘little’ out of balance when people are dying as a consequence of not getting this line right. It’s time we collectively and individually have a good hard look at ourselves and all grow up and out of this together.
Both the traditional and social media seem to be stuck in the mindset of an angry petulant teenager trying to bring everyone down to make themselves feel better. (Not all teens are like this of course but you get the reference). Are they (the papers) creatures of our own making or are we creatures of theirs? That is a potentially depressing line of enquiry.
Either way it’s time to ‘take the power back’ as they would say and stop letting ourselves be manipulated and influenced by the ferociously unkind, vile and vindictive distortions that they spout. They have got away with insulting our intelligence and lowering moral standards for too long.
Yes, there is a lot more that could be positively influenced via education and laws and we should absolutely call for this. But the real change comes when we as a people take responsibility for our cultural, emotional development, and change because we have collectively grown and matured, not just because a law has been passed.
So how do we all grow out of this together?
Firstly we need to recognise the drivers of this behaviour and bring some awareness into the mix.
Nice, happy, well-adjusted people don’t spread hate or troll. They might not like someone or agree with them but they aren’t generally filled with the vitriol it takes to post or spread hate online.
It has been said that people (or at least a part of them) are generally stuck at the emotional maturity of the age of their deepest wound. It can stunt our emotional growth because, unresolved, it leaves us with active triggers as the subconscious tries to protect us from re-experiencing the trauma again in real life.
It does this by warning us of perceived threats and leaves us with a distorted frame of the world that is always on the lookout for similar or related aspects. Those aspects will appear exaggerated to us and when spotted, will trigger strong emotions that demand some kind of action or relief.
We will most likely have created a belief about ourselves, others or the world at the same time as a reference. Without context or knowing the full picture as a child, this belief may or may not be helpful as we move into adulthood. Our brain’s priority is our survival, not fact checking or even our happiness.
The ‘trauma’ can be big or small. Even feeling unloved or unworthy can be traumatic to a child and affect the way they go on to interact with the world as a result.
It is most possible, even likely, that the people that are so hateful online and elsewhere are in some state of emotional pain and distortion, even if it is subconscious. It does not excuse it but to have any hope of changing it we need to at least try to understand it.
The cauldron of hate
Now, make no mistake, we all have pain and distortions but we don’t all participate in such hateful behaviour towards others. Being in pain does not absolve you from causing pain in others. But it can be helpful in understanding what triggers those actions and shed some light on what drives people to do and say things that, to many of us, seem hard to fathom.
The combination of ingredients necessary for personal triggers to spill out into the hate we see, may be a combination of some of the following:
- Their particular distortions/pain:
Low self worth, jealousy, regret, guilt, loneliness, isolation, feeling powerless, sadness, anger, health, pain, boredom, desire for significance, limitations or restrictions etc.
- Emotional Maturity:
Their emotional resourcefulness/ maturity and ability to self manage when triggered. Which can be influenced by their upbringing, unresolved active traumas or wounds, level of consciousness and self awareness, mental capacity, education, general well being, health and state of mind.
The options and resources available to that person to get relief from that discomfort or pain and get their needs met, feel better, significant, release anger and heal in any meaningful way.
- The culture of acceptability:
Safety or anonymity around that behaviour (can I get away with this without personal consequence).
- Community and benefits – approval, connection and positive consequences of the action. (Are my peers going to think this is funny and share/like. Am I going to get points/ respect/ influence for this etc.).
There will be more but it’s a place to start.
Now – I am not suggesting that we all just feel sorry for or get all fluffy about people who get their kicks or distorted needs met through hurting other people online. But when we start to recoginse what might be going on with them it might 1) take a bit of the power out of it, and 2) highlight areas of concern that should not be overlooked when we are talking about solutions to this problem.
The fact that the perpetrators span all medias and all demographics means that an effective response needs to be both deep and wide. Practical, legal, cultural and educational.
The misery of trolling is spread with the same severity of consequence by national newspapers as it is in the classroom WhatsApp group. By every age and social position. The frequencies of our lowest emotional states will seek expression and relief in whatever way they can. We need to consciously choose to be of a higher vibration.
Looking towards solutions – Questions to ask and topics to explore.
For the first three:
- Individual distortion or pain/ Emotional Maturity/ Resources
How do we become a society were more people have the internal resources to meet their needs in constructive ways. Some people don’t even have the language for how they feel let alone know what to do about it. How do we support growth, intelligence, and development in this area, create a shared language, access to resources, increase education and raise the bar of what is considered acceptable behaviour.
Increased support for mental and emotional health issues is desperately needed. We are failing here quite spectacularly. Funding will no doubt play a big part of this. From schools to GP surgeries and beyond, we need to do much better.
- The culture of acceptability:
No longer making it acceptable for individuals or media (traditional or social) to propagate false or harmful content. Exploring laws, protective rights, and other legal interventions and consequences, alongside cultural non-acceptance of the spouting of hate and maligning that we have been witness to for too long.
- Community and benefits:
Removing the financial or social benefits of such behaviour. Boycotts or non-response. Unlike, disengage, leave them in the void of silence to think about what they’ve done. Make them fear ‘de-relevance’.
And don’t be fooled by the seemingly, rich, successful and famous that spout hate. Despite appearing to have a very high regard for themselves and plentiful financial resources, if they are bullies and regularly enjoy bringing down others, that is a symptom of a deep insatiable, emotional deficit that they are trying to fill or control.
It has been proven time and time again that the majority of those considered ‘rich and famous’ are far from being pinnacles of mental health and happiness.
At the end of the day, everyone is just doing their best to meet their needs, to move away from pain and towards what they think will make them happy. Some people have more options and internal or external resources to do this than others. We can judge and hate back or we can try and raise our standards for everybody.
Any solution will be complex and multi-faceted because the problem is so prevalent across all mediums and demographics. But let’s look at what we can do.
Don’t get sucked into the circus of gossip, outrage, comparison and B.S. If something or someone makes you feel bad, angry or triggered, step away. Find the emotional development tools that work for you. See it as a prompt for an area of self-work to grow from. Ask yourself why that triggered a response in you; what must you believe to feel that way? Get radically honest with yourself.
Acknowledge that you don’t always have to respond. Sometimes silence is the best answer. Take social media breaks. Don’t believe everything you read. Be kind – always. There is a whole lot of life to live, don’t waste your time on low vibrational information, activates and people. That is so last decade 😉
Check in on your friends, look out for changes in their interactions, unusual quiet spells, red flags or cries for help. This wont always be obvious. If you see friends getting abuse, reach out to them in real life. If someone shares that they are suffering, take it seriously, listen, make time for them. Encourage them to get professional help if you suspect they need more support.
If you are receiving abuse, reach out, get help, please don’t suffer in silence. It’s not actually a reflection on you, it is a reflection of the perpetrators’ own moral and emotional deficits. Don’t take it in. This will not last forever, things can and will get better. You are not alone in this. You count. Stay.
Numbers to contact for support below.
Don’t feed the monster
Bullies – Recognise that the bullies are working with lower emotional states and emotional deficits. Not engaging, feeding, reacting or participating in any way with them removes the positive reinforcement they get from responses. By responding – you just make them more relevant. If a high profile bully tweets into an empty void of no response and tumbleweed, who wins? Exactly. Don’t feed the monster.
Papers – we can influence them, vote with your coins, attention and boycott the guilty ones. Force them to raise their standards. They are a business and have to respond if enough people change what they accept or buy into.
Media – don’t click the salacious headlines, boycott the guilty and hateful outlets. You know who they are.
Laws and government – contact your MPs, raise the matter, sign petitions for serious interventions that make the media up its standards and operational procedures that both protect individuals and preserve free speech.
Education – let’s not leave anyone behind. Let’s create a shared language and access to tools that breed better emotional development and resilience.
Let’s raise our standards, individually, collective, nationally and globally and make this the age of emotional intelligence and better mental health, for everyone.
Let’s all grow up, together.
Numbers for support (UK)
- Samaritans (for everyone) – 116 123
- CALM (for men) – 0800 58 58 58
- Papyrus (people under 35) – 0800 068 41 41
- ChildLine (19 and under) – 0800 1111
#choosekindness #carolineslaw #antibullying #wecandobetter #mentalhealth
#dontchoosehate #votewithyouractions #carolineflackrip #carolineflack