The growth of 'cancel culture'

Clara Clein Wolfe writes.

05 March 2020

Breaking news headlines of the passing of former Love Island presenter Caroline Flack came thick and fast, alongside the perfunctory sharing of stories and flurry of posts. Sadness and shock soon gave way to anger. Scrolling through the Twitter thread relating to Caroline, reveals a recurring theme of anger towards the media for their perceived complicity. Caroline’s death ignited a Twitterstorm.

A Twitterstorm is a burst of tweets about a particular topic. My undergraduate project was inspired by the ‘It’s Dr, not M(is)s’ Twitterstorms of 2018, in which Dr Fern Riddell and Dr Siobhan O’Dwyer were berated for asserting their titles. Articles about the Twitterstorms demonstrated wider issues faced by women in academia, the public eye and in modern society.

Social media does not exist in a vacuum. Recently, the role of social media in the proliferation of fake news has grown. There is also the issue of ‘cancel culture’. According to Anjana Susarla writing in The Conversation this year, a person is cancelled when something they have done or said causes outrage, and receives significant engagement leading online algorithms to increase its visibility to individuals of similar views – thus perpetuating the outrage. Any kind of scandal can result in a person being cancelled by an indignant, somewhat anonymous internet crowd.

Caroline Flack was a successful woman with an extensive career. She had recently experienced cancel culture due to her arrest for assault. Caroline had been the subject of Twitterstorms concerning her personal and professional life. Scores of internet trolls had vilified Caroline for her dating history and countless media articles had been written about her. 

The suicides of two previous Love Island contestants had called into question the psychological support available to contestants, although this support was reportedly increased for the 2019 series. The Jeremy Kyle Show was cancelled last May after the suicide of a former participant, and there are calls for Love Island to meet the same fate.

Caroline Flack’s death must not be forgotten. The conversation around mental health may be changing but it is not enough. Caroline worked extensively for a television network which is promoting a ‘Get Britain Talking’ campaign. Psychology is well placed to shine a mirror to society’s darkness; psychologist Emma Kenny uploaded a visceral, heartfelt video to Twitter in which she spoke directly to trolls. Psychological research into these suicides and the links to the media, social media and trolls would hopefully provide some insight and incite genuine change.

Be Kind.

Clara Clein Wolfe