Twitter was how I first discovered that Caroline Flack had died, apparently by suicide. Twitter was also where a maelstrom of opinion swirled into angry life, mostly directed at the tabloid newspapers.
As a reader of what used to be called the broadsheets, it is easy to share some of this anger. Tabloid newspapers often exploit the famous, especially women.
If you want to know what a tabloid attitude looks like made flesh, just think of Piers Morgan on ITV’s This Morning, where his crowd-baiting, political-correctness-gone-mad guff and diminishment of famous women takes sweaty three-dimensional form (I don’t watch but you can’t escape those clips on social media).
Many of those shocked by Caroline Flack’s death at the age of 40 sought to blame the tabloids. And, certainly, it was difficult to stomach over the weekend the gush of emotion about Flack unleashed from the very newspapers and shameless operators who’d splashed her sometimes troubled life all over their pages.
They’d had their fun with the Love Island presenter while she was alive; and now that she was dead, they weren’t about to stop, only now they were operating in the convenient shadow of public distress.
But is it fair to blame the tabloids alone for her death? When someone commits suicide there can be many reasons for their awful decision. Part of what we learn here should perhaps be about the unknowability of other people.
Caroline Flack appears, like many people, to have been complicated: successful, glamorous, confident on screen, living the sort of life others might envy, and yet she was deeply troubled too.
The harsh spotlight cannot have helped; the prying, uncaring headlines cannot have helped; but her decision raises other questions, not least the relentless amplification of her plight on social media.
It also raises questions about how some journalists behave in pursuit of a story. Journalism does require toughness; sometimes the job can only be done with a degree of perhaps uncomfortable persistence.
Yet is is also a job that requires humanity – most stories are about people, and you can only hope to understand other people if you respect them as sometimes flawed and troubled human beings, not merely as the latest salacious plot twist in the story you wish to print or share.
Many people have observed since Saturday’s news, not least Flack’s friend Laura Whitmore, that we should all be kinder. That seems the wisest lesson to draw from this tragedy.
If people don’t wish to buy or support tabloid newspapers that print unsympathetic and sometimes vile stories, that is fine and may be for the general social good.
If there was no market for these stories, perhaps the papers would stop printing them, although their unkind habit cuts deep (as apparently does our desire to read stories of which we say we disapprove).
One aspect less commented on is that social media has made some newspapers lazy.
Why bother to ask important questions about business, politics or the people running the country, if you can scrabble through the social media bins and come up with a story?
Why spend time, effort and money investigating something of genuine importance when someone famous, usually a woman, is falling apart in the public eye?
With Caroline Flack we are dealing with the loss of someone who was widely known, yes, but who was also loved and cherished by those who held her dear. Their loss is far greater than ours, although the death of a famous person does remind us that loss is all around.
As for Twitter, well I love spending/wasting time on there. It’s often a fun and occasionally enlightening place, but it can be nasty sewer, too. We should listen to Laura and try to be kinder.