Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Did trolls kill Charlotte Dawson?

It goes without saying that the death of Charlotte Dawson was a sad event. Suicide is always depressing. Of course when something like this happens lots of people look for something, someone, or some group to blame. Not surprisingly social media trolls have been seen as the major culprits here.

I don't think there's any doubt that the massive amount of abuse she copped online was a contributing factor in her death. But can you say they killed her, as many people on Twitter and elsewhere have been claiming?

No way. She killed herself. If you believe that adults are responsible for their own actions then you have to accept that it was she who made the final decision to end her own life.

Yes, there were many factors that brought her to that point. And we can argue about the extent to which one or more of them contributed to her death. But if you say that she had no power whatsoever in this equation and it was all due to the actions of others you're just deluding yourself.

I'm no shrink but it's pretty obvious from recent coverage of the tragedy that several factors were at play. There was Dawson's ongoing struggle with depression. There was the fact that almost everyone in the country knew about her parlous emotional state for years thanks to ongoing mainstream media attention. More specifically there was the recent stress of a 60 Minutes report about former partner Scott Miller and his drug problems. This clearly dredged up many deeply painful memories for her. There was the fact that her career was floundering. And there were the trolls.

It seems to me that "blaming the media" for her death would be just as rational as blaming trolls. The way they cynically exploit the suffering of well known individuals such as Dawson and Miller for ratings while simultaneously wringing their hands about it just makes you wanna puke. The fact that these reports are done with the full cooperation of the vulnerable individuals concerned is not an ameliorating factor. Maybe such troubled souls are doing it for the cash or the attention, or both. This just makes the whole thing even more creepily predatory in my opinion.

As well as compounding her humiliation, the ongoing media coverage of Dawson's struggle with mental illness made her even more of a target for trolling. We've all heard the term "don't feed the trolls". Well, a lot of that food was being supplied by the shows that made piles of filthy lucre from "documenting" her battles with them.

The same can be said of a lot of this hand-wringing in the wake of her death as well as the campaign by nanny-statists to make her into a martyr and increase censorship of social media. Rather than landing a powerful blow against trolls in general, all these things will embolden them further.

It's pretty clear that trolls genuinely wished her dead. So by arguing that their harassment of her was the main cause of her demise, you're basically saying: "You won trolls." (Actually, I read several tweets that used almost those exact words.) All that'll do is ensure that they'll redouble their efforts to emotionally destroy their next target.

Much better to just ignore these pathetic people in my opinion. Don't give them the power they don't have by telling them that their putrid online harassment actually succeeded.


  1. When the news of her suicide broke I went back and read your piece from 2012 about Ms Dawson's 60 Minutes interview. I didn't see the interview myself, but I gathered from the news stories at the time there was a lot of the Look At Me! syndrome in Charlotte's handling of the situation.
    Twitter trolls tormented her, but her last tweet is dated Feb 20. Why didn't she walk away from Twitter? Why did she not see that as an option?

    1. I suppose she just craved the attention. Couldn't stay away.

      Sure, trolling had reached a critical mass with her. It probably wouldn't have stopped had she started ignoring them. But she certainly inflamed much of it, let's face it.

      Twitter is like a pub that has some arseholes in it. If you walk in there and they hassle you, then ignore them. They'll generally leave you alone. But if not, you just go somewhere else. If you dig your heels in and fight them, you're not going to win.

      I know she was mentally ill, but that's why it was so irresponsible for the media to keep exploiting her by reporting on her decline. I think this probably had more to do with her suicide than trolling itself.

  2. I actually saw a comment from a troll after Charlotte Dawson died that said 'that didnt end so well did it Charlotte'. Its true we all have power over our actions and fates - including Charlotte and the troll. I think we humans are genetic seeds that unfold as programmed, and part of the process is the 'maps' we make of what 'reality' seems like to us given our experience from a young age. And these maps are reinforced by the strong feelings of childhood. If things dont go well in childhood (the abuse of Charlotte, the lack of a loving environment for the troll?) we find the 'maps' produce overwhelming confusing feelings (despair for Charlotte, white hot anger for the troll?) and at the bottom of it all, yes we have control. But it can be the control of someone who finds themselves outside alone in the snow and lethal elements without the correct clothing for reasons beyond their choice. Yes, they might be able to get out of it by their choices, but its still a pretty tough, and potentially fatal situation. Because there are people around like Charlotte, damaged for reasons beyond their control, thrown into dangerous situations, I think other people need to weigh their actions towards them responsibly, although we potentially each have ultimate control over our fates, we might not be in the position to excercise it at the time. We need to be responsible and caring to each other.

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