I was angry on Saturday night. I was angry because I’d just heard the awful news about Caroline Flack. News that maybe a couple of years ago would have manifested itself in me through upset and empathy. Upset and empathy that have now translated into anger because this is becoming too common and it has to stop.
Media firestorms in which people are hounded from all directions, pushed to breaking point. Harassed by trolls who revel in the oasis of anonymity that social media provides. Trolls – a term which, by-the-way, is stupid and acts to somewhat diminish their evil – that are fed by the constant cascade of anger, hate and distrust engendered in Britain’s tabloid press.
That evening I was speaking on the phone to a friend who made a great point: although we like to think we do – although we like to think that we get more civilised, and forgiving, and caring, and loving – humans don’t evolve. We don’t get better. The parameters for what evil deed is accepted may move or change but they don’t get smaller.
What Caroline Flack went through, and what thousands of others have been through and are currently going through is the 21st century version of a public stoning. Barraging a shunned member of society, whether with rocks or through the media, will eventually – as far too many occasions have shown – have the same result.
I was angry on Saturday night, and I’ve been made even more angry in the days following. The Sun hurriedly deleting their articles; Flack’s former employer Love Island choosing to restart the show after only a two-day hiatus; and then by the backlash that former partner Danny Cipriani received for tweeting his anger and grief and calling for change at the way we operate on social media.
In response to his tweet: “The media are f**ked. Never held accountable. They lie. Get away with it every time. People are so quick to read it and just throw nasty comments. She was a kind soul and didn’t deserve the way she was bullied,” Cipriani was then turned on by the very people that he was warning against.
One journalist replied: “You are truly pathetic Cipriani… Caroline Flack, a huge star, has died and a failed rugby playing little bum like you has decided to use her horrific death as a platform for your anti-media campaign. You didn’t get good stuff written about you because you weren’t very good.”
The fact that a person – grieving and angry – gets treated in the same way that led to the cause of his grief, following a statement about stopping the very thing that the response is doing is Vonnegutian in its levels of nihilistic irony.
It is the trend of a broken and backwards society, a trend that is too endemic in the present to warrant the removed term ‘dystopian.’ It is happening now: and it is our responsibility to stop this cycle of abuse.
This seems to be the mindset of Gloucester CEO Lance Bradley. Rushing to Cipriani’s support he seems to be one of the few people to come out of this well. Bradley both supported Cipriani online but has also pledged to dedicate Gloucester’s next home game against Sale to raising awareness around mental health.
Speaking to BBC Points West, Bradley explained. “We’re going to make our next home game a day on which we focus on mental health and we’ll do it in support of a mental health charity. We’re in the early stages of planning it. We haven’t decided exactly which charity, but we’ll raise some money for them and raise some awareness of it.
“What’s important is that this won’t be a one-off game where we shine a light on something and then move on to something else,” he added. “This is going to become part of what we do.
“We try to look after all of our colleagues. There are some people who think social media means you can say what you like and that it doesn’t make any difference.”
All of what Bradley says is positive. Whilst reflection is key, so too is action. Life is short and habits stick: we have to change the way we operate on social media before it’s too late.
By Will Sewell