Words: Rebecca Frazer
By now, most of us have seen the video of Liam Payne getting interviewed by Good Morning Britain after the Oscars on the red carpet, discussing the Will Smith and Chris Rock incident whilst donning an unusual accent unlike his own. It was one of the more bizarre pieces of content to come from the night and left a lot of us confused—and somewhat entertained—by the new shift in his accent.
Of course, people quickly took to social media to discuss the video and his strange behaviour and within hours, his name was trending all over Twitter. A barrage of tweets littered the timeline with everyone seemingly putting forward their opinion on his interview. Though most tweets were made in jest, some started speculating as to the cause of his erratic behaviour and a select few were solely made to mock or harass him. One tweet asked how he still had enough credit in the bank to attend the Oscars. A lot more claimed it was due to a drug habit. For every positive tweet about him, it seemed there were ten more there intended for nothing other than to ridicule the former 1D member.
We’ve all grown to learn by now that social media and Twitter in particular is a breeding ground for criticism. With the freedom to tweet pretty much anything without restriction to the world, some people take that liberty for granted and use it to abuse others and make fun of celebrities and public figures without the fear of consequence. And when enough people begin to tweet about one person or one incident in particular, it creates a pile-on of sorts. An endless stream of negativity.
We’ve seen before how this kind of mass mindless ridicule and hatred can affect people in the public eye. Lorde has discussed in the past about how she received online abuse regarding her appearance in the early days of her career and how, despite trying to remain strong, it still affected her. Olly Alexander of Years & Years told NME in 2016 that some of the comments he received “could be considered a criminal offence” and even went as far as to make rape jokes about him. And Liam’s very own former bandmate, Zayn Malik, has had to endure enormous amounts of racial abuse online since the band’s inception, with tweets commonly referring to him as a ‘terrorist’ due to his race and religion.
Anonymity emboldens these gross comments and tweets, but there have been a number of real-life consequences to social media hate. Most notable is that of Caroline Flack, who took her own life in 2020 due to widespread criticism over her court case on social media. Her death sparked the hashtag #BeKind on twitter, but it seemed it was a short-lived movement until the next funny celebrity moment that people returned to tweeting and commenting about.
The links between social media and depression have become more apparent over recent years. One landmark study by the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology in 2018 found that the more people used social media, the more depressed and lonelier they felt. In another, figures showed that suicides amongst teenage girls and young women had almost doubled in a seven-year period, alongside the increasing popularity of the main social media sites. Social media—for all of its good—can also be a hostile, unkind place to be.
Liam has discussed his own battles with mental health in the past. On Straight Talking with Ant Middleton, the boy bander revealed that he himself had experienced suicide ideation after social media scrutiny, saying: “Fame is like having a weird midlife crisis. I am lucky to be here still. There’s times where that level of loneliness and people getting into you every day every so often…that’s almost nearly killed me a couple of times. I’ve been in a bad place…it’s been on the menu a couple of times in my life.” This frank discussion and willingness to open up about his struggles with mental health is a much-needed eye opener to the realities of what leaving a negative comment or tweeting recklessly can do.
The vitriol aimed at Liam last week was in abundance and was worrying to see knowing his past struggles with mental health. This then only serves as a reminder of why these conversations are so important to have. To honestly open up about struggles with mental health and the difficulties being famous and on social media can bring. With depression and suicide rates continuing to climb, especially in the 18-35 age bracket, the reminder to try and be a bit nicer online is needed now more than ever.
Regardless of the reasons for Liam’s out of character behaviour in the interview, we hope he is doing well and surrounded by good people. Though social media is a great tool for a range of things, it can so often be used to spew hatred. So, the next time you decide to tweet about a public figure, try to be a bit kinder and remember that at the end of the day, they’re a human behind a screen too.
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