In this fast-paced, digital world there is no escaping the stern eye of public scrutiny and criticism. The rise of social media has provided us with all of the good, the bad, and the ugly that the online world has to offer.

According to youth charity Ditch the Label, online abuse crimes surged by 20 per cent during the pandemic, with claims that online hate is becoming normalised.

The Problem of Selective Kindness

The #bekind movement was a sure-fire way of bringing people together. The tragic death of Caroline Flack spurred an online torrent of support and #bekind tweets. And so began what seemed to be a continuous cycle: copious amounts of online abuse, a tragic event occurring, a surge of online support and then lather, rinse, repeat. This begs the question: has the #bekind movement become a trivial cover-up for a colossal problem? There is arguably an obvious trend in today’s digital climate of surreptitiously picking and choosing when kindness is relevant.

Online comment sections are a cesspool for criticism and ridicule, with hate spurring further hate. Twitter seems to have become a portal for sharing barbaric statuses rather than the jovial, harmless updates it used to showcase. Those hiding in the shadows are able to virtually connect with millions and disseminate hate-filled messages. The luxury of being able to hide behind a fake profile or a private account appears to be the driving factor, although this is not always the case.

Even the most popular celebrities are never immune to the torrent of online abuse inflicted by the internet tyrants that rule the web. Just recently, I stumbled on a tweet shaming Ed Sheeran: ‘There’s something so deeply off putting about him isn’t there?’ it said callously.

Celebrity Hate Sharing

There is almost a mutual feeling of obligation among us to judge and comment on those in the public eye. Are celebrities targeted because they’re somehow not seen as ‘real’ people? Or is it the case that they’re mistaken for commodities; open to attack because of their privileged status?

There has also been a gradual upshot in cancel culture. The term ‘cancelled’ has been coined to call someone out publicly — often online — for something they have said or done that is viewed as inappropriate, resulting in the person’s ‘power’ or influence being taken away. We’ve seen this with the now-infamous celebrities such as Kevin Spacey, Woody Allen and R. Kelly, to name a few. In their case, the cancelling was arguably appropriate given the odious sexual abuse allegations. But it’s a slippery slope. People have become slightly too comfortable with the term. We now try to cancel celebrities over minor, subjectively perceived flaws — think Taylor Swift for writing songs about her ex-boyfriends, and painting them in a negative light.

Of course, some celebrities are more susceptible to online hate than others. Committing thoughtless acts, such as promoting unethical products purely for monetary gain, is one reason for getting hate. Nobody is saying these people are blameless or that celebrities can do no wrong. The point is that there is a fine line between honourable critique and flat-out vicious hate. A line too many willingly cross.

My mother often comments that she doesn’t know how she would have coped living in our online world when she was younger. It is a different age, a different set of rules — or lack of them.

Nearly 5 billion people (more than half the world’s population) now use social media. It’s become a fact that when the opportunity arises, the internet likes to pick its villain. Rightly or wrongly, we enjoy playing the Prosecutor and High Judge in other people’s lives.

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