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Reality TV – What Lessons Can We Learn From The Recent Tragedy?

16th Apr 2019

On March 15th 2019, Mike Thalassitis became the second Love Island contestant to die in tragic circumstances. In 2016, former contestant Sophie Gradon, was reported to have taken her own life.

Reality television is a genre of television programming that documents ‘unscripted’ real-life situations. It stars unknown individuals rather than professional actors. Reality television began in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the huge success of shows such as Big Brother.  Reality television shows tend to be interspersed with short confessional interviews in which contestants reflect on or provide context for the events being depicted on-screen.

Competition-based reality shows typically feature a gradual elimination of participants, either by a panel of judges or by the viewers of the show.

Over the years, we have seen a huge rise in the popularity of Reality TV, but this has not come alone as it has faced significant criticism. Many argue that the shows do not reflect reality, they are staged and some have been accused of ‘rigging’ the favourite to win. Other criticisms state that the shows are intended to humiliate or exploit those who take part and that they glamorise vulgarity and materialism.

Whatever you believe, whether you’re a fan of Reality TV or not, one thing that does happen to contestants of such shows is they attract millions of followers on social media. But this comes at a price as so much of the social media activity they receive is negative and the contestants become huge targets for trolls. Trolling is a form of baiting online which involves sending abusive and hurtful comments across all social media platforms. It is another term used for bullying as no matter how you dress it up, it incites people to make comments to people that elicit further comments such as, “go away and die” or “you are so disgusting, I hate seeing you around”.

The messages are meant to cause the most distress they can and trolls go to great lengths in making their messages as hurtful as they can so that the recipient of the messages that are sent believe and are convinced that what has been said is true.

This unnecessary, vitriolic behaviour is enough to affect anyone’s mental health, never mind someone who is also ‘playing a part’ in a Reality TV show. The person on the receiving end of these comments often feels isolated and many do not tell anyone that they have been receiving such distressing messages.

Before taking part in Reality TV, it is vital that people receive support and therapy to ensure they fully understand what is going to happen and what might happen once the show is aired. They need to understand that there will be a lot of social media activity – both positive and negative and TV producers of such shows need to ensure the contestants are able to deal with it and have the support they need. Following Mike’s death, many ex Love Island stars slammed the show for failing to provide support once they had left the villa and we must make sure this never happens again.

Trolls have no care, no empathy, no consideration for those they are attacking. Social media is an amazing communication resource but people can and do use it to make spiteful, nasty and hurtful comments – which most would probably never say in the real world!

We have no right to judge these contestants (or anyone else) on their career choice and because they are on TV, does not give anyone the right to insult, harass or send them insulting, vile messages. But the TV shows do have a right to protect their mental health before, during and after they have left the shows and not use them as ‘puppets’ to make money and entertainment for others. We don’t know what else may be going on in a person’s life. We don’t know what else they might be trying to deal with and the negative activity they receive in the media and on social media can be what tips them over the edge.

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