Since the explosion of social media and the rise of the influencer, online personas are big business and can be very lucrative for those who command legions of followers. There are problems with this and it’s common knowledge that social media can have a detrimental effect on mental health. Influencers often promote an image that only reveals a tiny, glamorised, segment of their lives. To be fair, pretty much everyone does this, but the difference from normal people sharing their personal highlight reel is that successful influencers do it for a living, earning top dollar and a truck load of freebies. I don’t have a problem with influencers; having worked in fashion and PR, I understand the symbiotic relationship between influencers and brands. From a commercial perspective, it makes sense for brands to work with instagrammers as they have a wide reaching, personal interaction with their followers. If a company gifts a powerful influencer a product, and the influencer recommends said product, the brand stands a chance of generating sales that would cost a lot more with more traditional advertising and marketing. Any influencer with shrewd business acumen will only recommend things they really like. If their followers sense they are being duped into buying rubbish merchandise, trust will be compromised. As long it is clear when a product has been gifted and adverts are clearly stated, people earning cash and free stuff from their content is fair game. They’ve worked hard to build their following, why shouldn’t they profit from their effort?
There is now a backlash against the Insta-personality and forums have sprung up where influencers are raked over the coals for earning money from their social media accounts. Back in September, beauty journalist Sali Hughes published a video statement on her Instagram feed, calling out the bullies for making her life miserable by spreading lies about her on a horrible website called Tattle.life. For anyone who doesn’t know, Tattle.life is a forum where anonymous members post spiteful, vindictive remarks about online personalities. The site claims to be a space where people who monetise their personal-lives are critiqued, which would imply that the commentary is fair and considered. In reality, it’s just an excuse for poisonous trolling fuelled by jealousy and resentment. For some reason I don’t understand, Sali Hughes mortally offends the users of Tattle Life and she has been subject to relentless bullying. Trolls made horrific accusations about her marriage, loved ones who had recently died, her children, her ex-partner and her professional credibility. I respect Hughes for standing up to them publicly and shining a light on despicable behaviour. I seriously doubt that the women, and I’m sad to say that the bullies are women, would have the guts to say such horrible things in to Sali’s face. They lurk behind a veil of online anonymity, their craven malevolence safely shielded from accountability.
Sali Hughes’ mistreatment at the hands of the trolls behind Tattle.life isn’t the only incident of online bullying that has cropped up recently. Clemmie Hooper, AKA Mother of Daughters, is a very successful ‘mummy blogger’ and NHS midwife, was recently caught out for creating a fake account on Tattle.life where she trolled her friends and even called her husband a ‘class-A twat’. Hooper was herself a victim of online bullying; there are pages and pages of forum chats where trolls rip into Hooper and her family. She decided to take matters into her own hands and set up an anonymous profile to try and infiltrate the Tattle.life’s inner circle to defend herself and hopefully change their views on her. When they suspected that it was Clemmie behind the pseudonym, Alice in Wonderlust, Hooper resorted to making hateful comments about other Instagrammers to persuade the bullies that she was one of them. She continued posting on the site for eight months saying dreadful, sometimes racist, things about her friends and colleagues. She choose to deal with bullying by becoming a bully, her behaviour was outrageous and unconscionable and she caused much pain. Although her behaviour is inexcusable, I think this is a sad example of social media consuming itself, like the proverbial snake eating its own tail. One can only speculate on Hooper’s state of mind but I think it’s fair to say that her behaviour is not that of someone who was feeling well-adjusted, confident and happy, despite the idyllic facade she promoted on Instagram. I expect her intention was to claim agency and stand up to them, much like Sali Hughes. However, Clemmie got caught up in a swirling toxic vortex, unable to distinguish her true-self from her online personalities.
While I think that Tattle Life is a virtual sewer and should be taken down with immediate effect, I can’t help but have compassion for the people who use it. No one who is feeling good about themselves writes shitty comments about strangers on the internet. I’m lucky in that I have never been seriously attacked online, but I’ve had a fair few people come at me, making mean remarks about my looks, insisting that I’m attention seeking for blogging about my mental health and that I profited from my dad’s death by writing a book. I’m fairly thick skinned (about some things) and so far it hasn’t bothered me. I can see the behaviour for what it is; unhappy people lashing out at virtual personalities because it’s the only way to express their own discontent and frustration. I also accept that if I put myself out there not everyone will like me, and that’s ok. However, I’m sure it would be different if I were subjected to merciless bullying, curtesy of Tattle.life.
The scandal around Hooper has revealed the dark side of the supposedly wholesome, supportive world of mummy bloggers. The most depressing thing about this mess is women bullying other women. We should congratulate and hold each other up. I can understand how influencers flaunting expensive lifestyles is pretty galling for the average person who is not gifted designer handbags and free holidays. However, as the case of Clemmie Hooper illustrates, the glossy little squares on Instagram are never the whole story. Behind every smile there is a messy, flawed human doing their best – even if their best leads them down an ill-advised rabbit hole. The only way through it is with compassion; trolling is never excusable but it is invariably symptomatic of a bigger problem. I feel bad for Hooper, she made some disastrous choices but it’s clear that it was coming from a place of deep hurt and insecurity. With any luck, she will recover from this. Her online career may be severely compromised but hopefully she’ll forgive herself, learn a few lessons and move on to more positive endeavours.