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Caroline Flack and the Effects of Social Media

On February 15, 2020, British television personality Caroline Flack was found dead in London. Flack committed suicide by hanging. She was 40-years-old. 

Before her death, Flack had an extensive career in television. In 2009, Flack was a co-presenter on British reality TV show I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! Later, Flack co-hosted The Xtra Factor from 2011 to 2014, and she served as the co-host of The X Factor for one year. From there, Flack went on to serve as the host of reality show Love Island from 2015 until December of 2019. 

In December, Laura Whitmore replaced Flack as the Love Island host after Flack was charged with assault by beating. The assault took place in Flack’s north London home and involved her boyfriend, Lewis Burton. Burton was not seriously injured; however, Flack appeared in court on December 23 over the charges. Burton expressed that he did not want to press charges against Flack. Despite this, the Crown Prosecution Service, or CPS, continued to pursue the case, and Flack was released on bail. 

After the assault, Flack received an outpour of negative coverage in the media. According to The Guardian, “In the month she was charged with assault, Flack received twice as many negative headlines as positive.” The same article details how during the month of her death, the media published an equal number of positive and negative headlines about Flack. Many tabloids and media outlets portrayed Flack in a negative light. For instance, British tabloid The Sun released an article in December labeling Flack as “Caroline Whack” in the headline. 

Sarah Parrett, a 19-year-old biomedical engineering freshman, said, “There are certain sides of media that tell women that they have to act and to look a certain way, and then depending on the circumstances, they take it back in a different situation. They [women] are under a harsher light. People focus more on women celebrities for some reason; I don’t know why. The male celebrities get away with a lot more just because they do not have the gossip channels watching their every outfit or their every action.” 

Leading up to her death, the media relentlessly attacked Flack. Following her suicide, various media sources and celebrities began to pay tribute to the television star. The hypocritical nature of these reactions resulted in public outcry over the media’s negative focus on Flack prior to her death. 

In a message released by her family after her death, Flack wrote, “The reason I am talking today is because my family can’t take anymore. I’ve lost my job. My home. My ability to speak. And the truth has been taken out of my hands and used as entertainment.” 

Flack’s tragic death brings forward important questions about the effects of social media, especially in terms of mental health. Social media has been linked to intensified feelings of anxiety, loneliness and overall lower life satisfaction. While it is impossible to know everything that led to Flack’s tragic death, it is hard not to ask about the role social media played in her decline. Flack’s explicit remarks about her personal struggles at the time did not stop the press from attacking her. It took the worst possible outcome to occur before Flack’s criticizers realized just how detrimental their words were. This may just be speculation, but the onslaught of sudden praise for Flack suggests that there is not only some truth to this, but also some level of guilt. 

Cassidy Roberts, a 19-year-old chemical engineering freshman, said, “It [social media] can either be really good or really bad depending on the person and how they treat social media. I know that some people take likes on Instagram way too seriously, and then there are some people who use social media to boost their self-confidence. People don’t care until something bad happens. They [the media] are really hypocritical for sure.” 

It is easy to accept a superficial image of someone, especially if they are a celebrity. Yet, this outlook is flawed. Celebrities like Flack are human beings with human feelings. Words have the power to affect them, too.

 

Juliana is a second-year journalism major at the University of Florida. She loves reading, traveling and seeking new adventures. You can often find her in line for coffee or listening to music on Spotify. For a better look into her life, follow her @juliana.ferrie on Instagram.
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