Trolling After Reality TV: ‘It’s Worse Than I Could Have Imagined’

'People were sending me five-page emails explaining why I deserved to be dead.'

Married At First Sight, Love Island, Caroline Flack, Jade Goody, reality TV

by Bonnie McLaren |

It’s long been speculated but now there’s evidence that women on reality TV are subject to more abuse than men.

A report – commissioned for BBC Panorama’s Online Abuse: Why Do You Hate Me? – studied contestants from Married At First Sight and Love Island, concluding that ‘women, especially women of colour’ are disproportionately subject to trolling, with researchers finding that 26% of tweets mentioning a female Love Island contestant were abusive, compared with 14% of those naming a male participant.

Megan Wolfe, 26, one of the contestants on this year’s Married At First Sight UK, isn’t surprised. When she was seen cheating on her husband, Bob Voysey, by kissing Jordon Mundell after a day of filming, Megan was immediately targeted on social media. ‘It got to the point where people were sending me five-page emails explaining why I deserved to be dead,’ Megan tells Grazia. ‘Although you can reason in your head that these people are projecting their unhappiness, it’s a lot harder than I ever could have imagined.’

Megan feared for her safety – something she discussed with a psychologist working on the show. ‘A lot of it was born out of being exhausted and anxious, but there were people locally that wanted information about me,’ she says. ‘When I wasn’t feeling very well, I did get very paranoid that I wasn’t safe.’

Rachel Finni had a similar experience as Love Island’s first Black bombshell earlier this year. While in the villa, the 30-year-old says she was trolled about everything from her appearance, ‘the choices [she] made as a Black woman’, to her age. Rachel says she was criticised for having to choose between two white men, even though that was a decision made by producers.

Meanwhile, Priya Gopaldas, 24, found that trolls targeted her looks and her ethnicity while she was on Love Island. But after she discussed her experience in the BBC documentary, Priya says people have reached out as ‘they didn’t realise trolling was such a big issue’.

To deal with the deluge of abuse, Megan, Rachel and Priya say they now use filters on social media apps to prevent them seeing certain comments. ‘There’s this feature on Instagram that allows you to block certain words that I’ve started to use,’ Rachel says. ‘I’ve blocked any racial slurs, I’ve blocked the word Brad, I’ve blocked anything that could cause offence: words like ugly, fat, skinny. So, to this day, if anyone is making these comments, I don’t see it.’

Jo Hemmings, a TV psychologist who works with contestants appearing on reality shows, believes trolling has become so commonplace that some trolls no longer create anonymous accounts to send abuse. ‘I think there’s still a belief that if you put yourself out there on a TV show, you’re fair game,’ she explains. ‘It’s very dehumanising. I don’t think trolls realise the impact they’re having a lot of the time.’

Sadly, the issue is nothing new. Starting in the noughties, when Big Brother’s Jade Goody was hounded by the press and public, women on reality TV have long been seen as easy prey. The #BeKind movement might have started after Love Island presenter Caroline Flack took her own life – the third suicide linked to the show – yet reality stars are still facing abuse. Cindy Southworth, head of women’s safety at Facebook – which owns Instagram – has promised the platforms will ‘continue working with women’s safety groups’ and improve their technology to remove abuse more quickly.

But for Love Island’s Kaz Kamwi, 27, this can’t come soon enough. ‘So much more needs to be done when it comes to online trolling,’ Kaz, who also appeared on the recent Panorama, says. ‘So many conversations have been had, but so far there has been little tangible action with positive results. I would love to work with online platforms to find a better way, because progress is still progress.’

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