February 18, 2020 - 11:31am

In the wake of Caroline Flack’s untimely death, the finger of blame has been pointed in three directions: the Crown Prosecution Service decision to go to trial, the tabloids and online bullying. As far as prominent tweeters are concerned, tabloid and social media hounding were ultimately to blame. Petitions calling for criminal offences for media ‘bullying’ and stricter laws surrounding ‘safeguarding celebrities and people in the public eye’ are surpassing 500,000 signatures.

The reasons for taking one’s own life are rarely straightforward. Yet throughout this blame game, one thing was conspicuously absent. Within a day of Ms Flack’s alleged assault on her partner, there were calls for her to be sacked from her Love Island hosting job. ‘Sack Flack!’ a giddy headline read, reporting Twitter users’ conviction she should be fired. ‘[H]ope you are going to sack Caroline Flack as we know you would if it was a male presenter […]’ said one user, adding Flack’s personal life is, ‘hardly setting a good example’.

Some even began tweeting at ITV with the hashtag #sacktheflack. Her future gigs were either cancelled or likely to be, as other networks feared being tainted by association.

Indeed, she allegedly told friends that she felt she had effectively been sacked by ITV and her ‘career was over’. Already convicted in the court of public opinion and apparently by her employers, the upcoming trial would just add insult to injury.

For all the talk of online bullying, this crucial element of ‘cancel culture’ has been left out: Insults are not enough. Prosecution is not enough. Often, simple disagreements are not enough. People must be destroyed. Today’s weapon of choice: your job.

Why? The public world of work is where we gain recognition and our livelihoods. The cancellation of one’s ability to earn a livelihood is the modern equivalent of a public execution. In this way, the desire to scrub from public life alleged sinners has a medieval quality to it.

Indeed, we seem to be regressing to pre-modern ideas of what it means to be human. A lack of belief in the human ability to handle freedoms leads to the disappearing of ‘bad influences’. The public now acquires a child-like quality; we cannot be exposed to even a hint of wrongdoing or we will enact it in our own lives.

Ironically, it is this same impulse to cancel people that also drives censorship. And yet Flack’s death is being opportunistically used to fuel the latter. But this will do nothing to stop the toxic and medieval culture which doubts due process and metes out punishment to those deemed impure.



Ashley Frawleyis a sociologist, a columnist at Compact and COO of Sublation Media.