I am sitting at home on a Saturday evening, drink in hand, having just heard the news that the television presenter Caroline Flack has taken her own life.
Obviously, I did not know Caroline, and I can’t say I was a fan or even that I knew a great deal about her. I recall watching her on the X Factor a few times, knowing that she dated Harry Styles, and being somewhat jealous of her amazing legs. Even so, having found out about her death tonight, I feel tearful and frightened and really, really sad.
She was a woman in the prime of life who was clearly talented enough to have made a very successful career in the ultra-competitive field of television presenting. On the television screen she always appeared dynamic and likeable and a lot of fun. But in a world which appeared to hold so much for her, she felt that death was her only option. In amongst all the Instagram tributes and news reports and Tweets, I guess of which this is one, I am thinking of her loved ones, those who knew her and not her persona – of her family and of her friends, of her colleagues and of her partner. Right now they will be going through an experience which no one ever should, and which far too many people do.
Recently Caroline had been in the news having been through troubling times. The coverage of her leaving court following pleading not guilty to charges of common assault undoubtedly show a vulnerable and deeply distressed person. It was clear to see on her face that the scrutiny she was under felt unbearable. Time will no doubt reveal a fuller story regarding what happened as our news-hungry society seeks to fill in the blanks and know-all.
The thought in the forefront of my mind is how cruel the world is in 2020. Not only are those in the public eye subject to the whim of news reporters and journalists, they also have another layer to contend with – the outspoken, judgemental and uncensored online world. What a beast has been created in the Internet; in social media in particular. It is an aspect of life which causes me a lot of anxiety. I deleted my own Twitter account last year as I was beginning to find the incessant trolling, cruelty, judging and negativity too difficult to read each day, and I recognised that this was beginning to impact on my mental health. I still use Instagram but only for the purpose of this blog, and rarely do I venture beyond my own news feed. I feel I need to shelter myself from the cruelty of words which all too often can be decried as ‘free speech’, or justified with rationale that ‘celebrities sign up for scrutiny – they need to take the negative comments along with their big pay cheque and privileges’.
How will I help my children to negotiate this world as they grow up in the 2020’s – when Tic Toc and Insta and Twitter are the main methods of communication and when from behind so many keyboards comes cruelty and hurtful words? How can I protect them from this while still teaching them to use the internet responsibly themselves? These are questions which trouble me every single day. I feel that we have created a beast which is responsible for so much unkindness, and for causing so much pain.
The fact is that our words and our actions matter. Every single one of us. We must take individual responsibility for the culture that we – each and every one – contribute to. In my mind it is really, really simple…
In a world where you can choose to be anything, choose to be kind.
RIP Caroline. You have now found the peace which the world could not give you.