CHARLOTTE DAWSON was one of Australia’s most fabulous celebs.
Stunningly beautiful, she found fame as a model, before marrying an Olympic swimmer then using her journalistic edge and outrageous sense of humour to become a famed social commentator, presenter and judge on Australia’s Next Top Model.
As one of my career mentors, I looked up to this woman in so many ways, including her brutally honest vulnerability when it came to talking about her mental health struggles.
When social media launched, Charlotte was immediately hooked and soon became psychologically bogged down by cruel keyboard warriors whose taunts deeply impacted her.
On February 22, 2014, she took her own life, aged 47.
She had first attempted suicide two years earlier, publicly warning her online tormenters that it was a direct result of their actions.
Shockingly, they didn’t take her seriously.
Charlotte Dawson is now remembered as the first celebrity to commit suicide in part because of the impact of Twitter trolls.
Just three months earlier, Jesy Nelson — a member of the world’s most successful girl band Little Mix — tried to do the same thing, overdosing on pills after an ongoing tirade from Twitter trolls about her weight and looks.
If it wasn’t for the quick action of her then-boyfriend, who thank God discovered her, and an ambulance crew, another tragedy would surely have forced Twitter and other social media companies to act.
Six years on, with the platform now more toxic than ever, Jesy’s brave decision to go public with her story in a primetime BBC1 documentary this week has rightly brought this very important issue to the fore yet again.
Before anyone jumps to conclusions, I am not for a second saying Twitter is solely responsible for either situation.
Anyone who has dealt with the impact of suicide through close friends or family members will know it is very rare for there to be only one factor behind such a tragedy.
Mental health issues are, of course, complex.
But Jesy’s testimony is disturbing and powerful.
She makes it clear that before joining Twitter after her 2011 X Factor victory, she had no issues with body confidence or her personal appearance.
Receiving vile public messages from strangers on her phone on a daily basis proved too much. They got into her head, impacting her self-worth and view of the world.
She’s not alone.
Two years ago Ed Sheeran posed a major headache for Twitter bosses when he told me he’d quit the platform, despite being the most beloved music star in the world.
As he sensibly tried to navigate superstardom with an ordinary life, he explained his decision by saying: “I go on it and there’s nothing but people saying mean things. Twitter’s a platform for that.
“One comment ruins your day. But that’s why I’ve come off it. The head-f*** for me has been trying to work out why people dislike me so much.”
If Ed feels that way, then I can only imagine what it’s like to be the teenager bullied at school for being different in the age of social media.
So what on earth can Twitter do without limiting free speech? That’s the usual excuse used by social media defenders who think the internet should be free of regulation while newspapers and TV stations in this country are strangled with red tape and legal directives.
For one, Twitter must actually acknowledge there’s a difference between considered opinion or criticism and straight-up abuse, which usually involves vile swear words, hate speech and attacks on someone’s appearance.
My personal trolls — who by the way I find hilarious and do not make one jot of difference to how I feel about myself — have regularly wished violence on me, with Twitter usually insisting it didn’t breach any of its lax regulations.
As I’ve seen with my merry band of haters, being suspended for 24 hours is viewed as a badge of honour, rather than a serious deterrent to stop their bullying.
Especially given Twitter happily hands them the ability to run multiple faceless accounts.
Of course, balance is required. The internet is vast and cannot be totally monitored.
But Twitter is the Wild West where trolls thrive and that has to change.
It’s no surprise to me that sensible folk who used to love the mix of banter, access, news and gossip provided by the platform are quitting in their droves.
And if Twitter isn’t careful, very soon there will only be trolls, politicians and self-righteous left-wing journalists left
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