cancel culture is cancelled

the letter we didn’t want to write

This week we pay homage to Caroline Flack, and how we each have a role to play in making the internet and media safer for all. 

ICYMI: High Tea was born out of a voracious appetite for internet culture, media, and chasing the coattails of ephemeral digital spaces. Walking the tightrope between Gen Z and Millennial experience, our attempts at translating these transient waves of The Zeitgeist™ come from a place that’s old enough to remember the death of Princess Diana, and young enough to claim the title of digital native. 

But even we find ourselves navigating unknown waters sometimes. 

It’s been a difficult week on The Internet (when is it not, amirite ladies?). First, Jameela Jamil, aka bees to a Twitter honeypot for professional naysayers and well, Piers Morgan, was most recently diagnosed with Munchausen by several online trolls - accusing Jamil of commodifying her suffering and capitalising on her “victimhood status”. On that note, you can read the down-in-the-dms exchange for a small fee on Patreon (no, we’re not kidding - though we wish we were). And so, Jameela’s seemingly unending list of online controversy continues. 

Then, just yesterday, news of the untimely death of Caroline Flack, who took her own life, sent shockwaves, not just in the UK where she’s a household name, but worldwide, as strangers - and those who knew her personally - were united in both grief and anger for the recent tabloid treatment of the troubled star, who was due to stand trial next month. 

“She lived every mistake publicly, under the scrutiny of the media” - Laura Whitmore

What unites these two women, and so many countless and nameless more, is their depressingly familiar treatment online and in the press, where exploitation of suffering under the translucent veil of ‘clickbait’ equals big bucks.

Mainstream media may have moved fast and unforgiving from print journalism into seemingly more temporary, digital spaces, but British tabloids have remained unrelenting in their public pursuit of the vulnerable, which, quite frankly, is nothing short of vultures picking at scabs. Sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade, you know? 

Read all about it: The Sun, a Murdoch owned newspaper well known for demonising women and the working class, has begun the process of deleting its old (also read: derogatory, misleading, false, inflammatory) articles leading up to Flack’s death, while simultaneously cashing in on click-throughs to their crocodile-tears-tribute to her life and career.

I wanted to write something about mental health day last week but I was knee deep in work. And some days it’s hard to write your feelings of your not in the right place. The last few weeks I’ve been in a really weird place... I find it hard to talk about it .. I guess it’s anxiety and pressure of life ... and when I actually reached out to someone they said I was draining. I feel like this is why some people keep their emotions to themselves. I certainly hate talking about my feelings. And being a burden is my biggest fear.... I’m lucky to be able to pick myself up when things feel shit. But what happens if someone can’t . Be nice to people. You never know what’s going on . Ever
October 14, 2019

Make no mistake, this is media manslaughter, distributed in equal part by the press that hounded Flack taking pleasure and revenue in her downfall, and the anonymous echo chambers of social media, where death and rape threats can be found hiding in plain sight behind anonymous accounts.   

Women attacked for their ambition and success is nothing new, but the online abuse that ensues from its display, celebration - even its mere existence, is. We’re still playing catch up on self-policing these spaces; we say “online harassment” as if these words and threats don’t bleed into our lives lived out in more tangible spaces. 

Laura Whitmore said it best: “we’ve had enough”. 

Now is the time for action. We must ask ourselves: do we still want to participate in spaces that are complicit in this abuse through inaction? Is this the kind of media we want to continue to support and consume? Now that’s the real tea.

Block Party: taking back control 

Tracy Chou knows the effects of trolling only too well. 10 years ago, a newly qualified computer science grad, Chou was the creator of Quora’s first block button: something which was needed even at that early stage of the platform.

After working on a whole suite moderation of tools for Quora and, next Pinterest, Chou saw, and experienced first-hand, the effects of Silicon Valley’s “dismissal of problems” that doesn’t interest or involve it. 

“A lot of the internet wasn’t built with the needs of especially women in mind.” 

After those SV starters grew up, the influence of fatherhood hit the Valley like a tonne of bricks. 

Just how many of the pioneering tech executives invoke strict policies on internet consumption in their own households, is indicative of the shift. Bill Gates didn’t let his children use a cell phone until they were 14, Steve Jobs perpetuated a tech-free family-focused home life, and even Zuckerberg made radical updates to Facebook in 2018 as he considered his legacy through the eyes of his young children.

"It's important to me that when Max and August grow up that they feel like what their father built was good for the world," 

But is this all too little too late? 

Don’t get us wrong, we know the positives of these platforms. Social media was for us, and is still to some extent today, our primary way to communicate with the world and navigate through it, giving us the opportunity to be creative beyond our physical and to challenge our inherited perspectives and learn positively from others. As late Zs, early millennials, we grew up with Bebo, MSN and later FB + Insta, it’s quite frankly, all we’ve ever known. We can unashamedly say, we’d be lost without it. 

However, as women, we recognise there is much that needs to change.

Chou is one to watch. Not to sit back and watch while journalists, comedians, developers, activists, presenters et al, get cruelly jostled between online trolls, her new startup Block Party seeks to give back control to victims, in an extreme move to prioritise mental health online. 

“Blocking people sometimes escalates the harassment, while muting and pretending that content doesn’t exist can be dangerous when there are real physical threats. Filing reports against abusive accounts typically either results in silence or an infuriatingly condescending return message that there is no violation of terms of service so no action will be taken.”

Rather than blocking out trolling altogether, Chou is building something revolutionary. Block Party seeks to provide a way for Twitter users to *manage* their mentions and notifications so they can enjoy freedom of speech without fearing for their psychological and personal safety. This could be either through ‘Quiet Mode’, which allows you to toggle on and off the people who are most likely to send you unwanted content, or even introducing a ‘Lockout Folder’ for your muted content, so you can focus on the mentions from people you care about. Most significantly, there’s even a ‘Helper View’ for your trusted pals to review your muted content if you can’t face it yourself. 

“I know that it is possible to build technology that centers the user’s concerns. I know that it is possible to build technology that takes the burden of managing abuse off the people being targeted by it, and empowers anyone and everyone to engage with the internet on their own terms, without being subjected to unwanted, threatening, or otherwise abusive content.”

With the devastating news of Caroline’s death pushing conversations around mental health and online abuse to the forefront of our discussions, it’s clear that enough still isn’t being done to protect some of society’s most vulnerable people online. We need initiatives like Block Party to instigate real changes to giant tech platforms throughout, and we have faith that Tracy Chou is just the woman to lead this revolution.

Support Block Party by signing up to the beta here

Anything ... we can literally choose to be anything ....
December 5, 2019

Rest in power and peace, Caroline Flack. 

Alice & Faye

if you are low, for whatever reason, and you need to speak to someone, @samaritans number is 116 123. It's free. 24/7. Text SHOUT to 85258 in the UK to text with a trained Crisis Volunteer. @GiveUsAShout