By Angus Muir
“In a world where you can be anything, be kind” reads the quote from an Instagram posted by Caroline Flack in December 2019, just two months prior to Caroline taking her own life.
People often speak about remembering exactly what they were doing when they hear of a shocking event, and for many including myself, this was one of those moments: the initial speculation on Twitter, with the phrases ‘Caroline Flack’ and ‘RIP Caroline’ trending in the UK. “This cannot be true”, you think to yourself, and pray this is just more fake news that will pass. Then, the BBC Breaking News notification comes through on your phone. The group chats are going mad with everyone hooked onto the latest updates about the tragic events that are unfolding right before you on your screen, direct to your sofa. Timelines are filled with tributes from celebrities far and wide, sharing in the same disbelief at what they have just read. Everyone vows to change things from here on – this has to be the final straw, we cannot lose another person to this modern war; we must #BeKind. But has this simple motto actually maintained any presence in the online world, just three months after its virality?
The suicide of the 40-year-old has been one of many eye-opening acts credited to the world of cyber-bullying. A woman, whom many of us felt a personal attachment to after watching her on TV every evening for eight weeks in summer, and who appeared so content and happy with her life, found herself in a position in which she felt she had no way out.
Celebrities are often perceived of as ‘super-human’ to the ordinary citizen, who has less than a fraction of the followers, and who doesn’t enjoy a glamourous jet-setting lifestyle. They are expected to be the “perfect” humans we should all aim to idolize, with no anxieties, worries, or issues. Surely one sensationalist headline here, and a couple of hurtful comments there can’t affect these people? Clearly, they can, and Caroline’s message of #BeKind has certainly been adopted by many who realise that their words can hurt. But has this been enough?
On the day before Caroline’s death, The Sun published an ‘exclusive’ article about a Valentine’s Day card which Samuel Hague had designed with an illustration of Caroline accompanied by the message “I’ll fucking lamp you”. This article, which was later deleted by The Sun following the news of her death, led to a flurry of hate against Samuel, who described the amount of guilt he felt as “indescribable”. He explained in an Instagram post how people had contacted his wife and sent her abuse, and even shared some of the messages he received, including one which read: “I hope you get hurt. I hope you change your sick mind, you ignorant bastard.”
This is where the problem lies. It seems contradictory that people preach kindness, and type #BeKind after a tweet, to later message someone wishing they ‘get hurt’ because of a clear mistake they made. Responding to cyber-bullying with cyber-bullying seems far from the solution. Samuel Hague explained that he was a “mentally strong individual” and tried to focus on the messages of support he received, but this isn’t always the case. Could this have been just another victim to cyber-bullying? Would we then repeat the process of scrolling through the superficial #BeKind splattered all over our timelines again?
This does not insinuate that Caroline’s death has not had any sort of impact at all. There have, for example, been some really positive stories about beauty salon owners ditching gossip magazines in their salons in an aim to promote greater well-being, and discard the toxic messages tabloids feed us. But since the initial shock of Caroline’s death, the once crucial message to #BeKind can often seem to be a memory of the past, particularly in a time when it is most needed.
How many more lives need to be lost before we realise the power that our actions and words can have on people, even those we only learn to admire through a screen and perceive as not being affected by our words? Every time you fall into the trap of clicking onto a sensationalist headline written by the likes of The Daily Mail, or retweet and share a hateful message about someone that seems harmless at the time, you are fuelling the problem.
Before you indulge in a quick scroll through the exaggerated headlines of The Sun, or ‘like’ one of Katie Hopkins’ tweets because you thought it was “funny”, remember the impact your actions might have – it could even be the difference between life and death.