We live in a society that has become obsessed with the lives of others. We want to know what everyone is wearing, we want to laugh at the latest viral video. Some of us want to share what we look like naked, whilst others like to share their various adventures travelling the world. We jump on the bandwagon of turning somebody into a meme, whilst collectively rallying around each other to target this weeks cancelled person. There is no right way to do social media, but over the years I have learned that there certainly is a wrong way.
When I started building my little corner of the internet, I had absolutely no idea the journey it would take me on. I started writing about bath bombs and music to accompany my skin care routines and fashion posts on Instagram. It seems like a lifetime ago, when in fact it has been a little under five years since I started giving pieces of myself to you. The more of myself that I have given away, the more of myself I have opened up to detailed scrutiny. In December, my life took a 180 with a viral thread about my encounter with an ex. I naively shared that story with my then small following, as I thought it was just another funny instalment in my dating life. That thread changed social media for me, completely. As I opened myself up in what I thought was a comedic manner, the retweets and the likes opened me up to the barrage of people who quite literally threatened to kill me. I noted 118 messages before I gave up counting, all of them full of abuse. People on the other side of a screen telling me I was fat, calling me ugly, telling me that my boyfriend deserved to die. That it was no surprise my mum gave me up for adoption. You called me a home-wrecker, you told me you would find me and throw acid in my face. You threatened to kill my family and you told me you would skin my dog alive. You called me a faggot, you told me I was nothing but a fat puff who needed sorting out with a gun up my arse, all because I shared a story of one tiny, otherwise irrelevant part of my life. The trolling intensified, and in January it reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I silently began to remove myself from the world. I begged you all to be kind, and I signed off the internet in order to give myself a chance to understand what was going on. There were moments during my time away where I couldn’t tell if I was too far gone. If maybe I should kill myself, as it seemed at the time, the only logistical way to silence your hate.
Listen, I am no big player in this world. Have I been recognised in the street and smiled for photos with people who follow me? Yes, but I can count those times on one hand. Do I have people telling me I am an inspiration and a light in their lives? Sure. I’ve walked a few red carpets and been lucky enough to speak at national conferences. But that doesn’t make me famous, by any means. All I am is a boy who wanted to talk about being sad, so that you could maybe feel less alone about you feeling sad. That’s it. That is all.
In my half a decade of doing this, I have watched the world around me change, it is now so unrecognisable. The incredible thing about social media is that it brings us all that little bit closer together. It gives us a chance to meet friends, lovers, long lost family members. It presents us an opportunity to keep relationships alive. But as we have also seen recently, it can completely destroy people too. If I didn’t live my life so publicly online (to a fault, I admit, my own fault.) and I saw my ex-date with his wife and children at midnight mass, then what would have happened? I would have maybe text a couple of my friends and moved on with my Christmas. But because I am that person who decides to play their lives for the auditorium that is Twitter, people feel like they are entitled to tell me I should die.
I cannot explain how toxic social media has become. From working in social media for politics during the last election right through to Brexit, I watched you tell MEPs that they were worthless, that they were pathetic, I even saw one of you tell one of my MEPs to kill himself because he was losing his job just like he had lost the referendum. To living my life on social media, obviously to a fault of my own, I have watched you tell me that I am fat, I have watched you blame me time and time again for the suicide of my first boyfriend. I even watched one of you draw pictures of you having sex with his dead body. I watched the media print incorrect stories of me over Christmas, I watched them sift through my Twitter to drag up pictures that had no part of what was going on, in order to fit the narrative that they were writing.
The media, both traditional and social, like to see who is topping the cancelled list of the week, and so they begin their campaign. They write stories, they fabricate lies, they spin their tales in order to fit their narrative. They hone in on one person and they deliver them blow after blow until that person can’t take anymore. I’ve tried so many times to tell you how lonely, how cold and how earth shattering suicide is. I have tried over and over again to explain that we may never, ever understand how far a person needs to be pushed before they see suicide as the only way out. I’m no angel, I have spent so long ignorant to the truth, too. But words on a screen hurt just as much as words to your face, believe me. I am no victim of social media, by any means, but I have seen enough of the disgusting and unforgivable side to know that this needs to stop. Now.
In the wake of Caroline Flacks tragically premature passing, I had 14 journalists reach out to me to ask me if I would take part in interviews discussing social media and mental health, and the toxic culture created. After a quick search of each journalist, all 14 of them had previously written articles to spur the cancel campaign against Caroline. I would absolutely be prepared to sit down and discuss mental health and social media, but I refuse to sit down with the very same people who are now trying so desperately to rinse their hands of blood.
Every single day you have a choice when you wake up. Every single time you see that somebody is being targeted and harassed, you have a choice. Do you be kind? Do you be cruel? Do you join in? Do you be that person that stands up for those who cannot stand up for themselves?
I get that so many of you will dismiss the social media cancel culture as a joke, but I think we can all agree that yesterday we collectively stopped laughing.
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