Caroline Flack: 'Be kind,' social-media users urge

By BBC News

  • Published
Instagram quote: "In a world where you can be anything, be kind".Image source, Instagram

"In a world where you can be anything, be kind," Caroline Flack wrote on Instagram in December.

There is no simple explanation for why someone chooses to take their own life and it is rarely due to one particular factor. But after the 40-year-old TV presenter was found on Saturday, those words have assumed an added resonance for many.

And on social media, tens of thousands have used the hashtag #BeKind in a clamour for change, pressing both media organisations and individuals to think more carefully about the impact of their words online.

"Choose your words wisely," pop group Little Mix implored.

"Everyone has the right to be on social media without feeling abused," dancer and presenter Ashley Banjo tweeted.

Media caption,
Presenter Laura Whitmore pays tribute to friend Caroline Flack.

Yet even in a hashtag exhorting kindness, you don't have to scroll endlessly to find acrimony and conflict.

Is it possible to change the social-media landscape by imploring people to be nicer?

"It takes people to commit to changing their behaviour," Center for Countering Digital Hate chief executive Imran Ahmed told BBC News.

"It's always inspiring to see people being more positive in the wake of tragedy and to find a way to give meaning and action to our collective resolve not to let these things happen.

"It's important that it's sustained over the long term or it will be one moment of positivity in the sea of negativity social media can be."

Social media was as positive or toxic as the content with which people engaged and shared, Mr Ahmed said.

"By engaging with negative content, we fall into the trap of amplifying it," he said.

"Until parents feel social media is a safe environment for young people, especially girls, they will think twice about letting their kids have access to it."

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Celebrities with large online followings, including TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp and musician Duncan James, echoed similar thoughts.

"If you want people to be kind, it has to be universal," Allsopp tweeted.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

"They teach us at school 'treat others how you would like to be treated yourself' but sadly this doesn't happen," James wrote.

Many of those to use the hashtag reserved particular criticism for the media.

A petition calling for the creation of "Caroline's Law", criminalising media "bullying", has accumulated more than half a million signatures.

More than 350,000 have signed another, launched by the actress Stephanie Davis, which calls for "stricter laws around safeguarding... people in the public eye".