By Kate Holton
LONDON (Reuters) – The death of one of Britain’s most famous TV stars, “Love Island” host Caroline Flack, has sparked a debate over the behavior of the tabloid press and whether social media companies need to do more to remove toxic content.
The 40-year-old Flack, the former presenter of the hugely popular reality show “Love Island” and a winner of Britain’s version of “Dancing with the Stars”, was found dead in her London flat on Saturday after she committed suicide.
Friends of the presenter have accused the tabloid press and social media trolls of hounding her after she was charged with assaulting her boyfriend in December, a charge she denied.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman called her death a tragedy and said social media companies needed to do more to make sure that robust processes were in place to remove unacceptable content.
“Caroline Flack was relentlessly trolled online, but this trolling was amplified and legitimized by the mainstream press and they should not be allowed to dodge their share of the blame,” said Tracy Brabin, the opposition Labour Party’s culture spokeswoman.
Britain is once again discussing the role of its tabloid press, just weeks after Prince Harry and his wife Meghan moved to Canada, partly to avoid what they said was misleading and unfair reporting.
While tabloids such as Rupert Murdoch’s Sun, the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail play a key role in launching the careers of many reality TV stars, they also tend to track their every move and relationship, and recycle some of the most toxic online criticism to generate new headlines.
A public inquiry was held into Britain’s media in 2011 after Murdoch’s now defunct News of the World newspaper admitted hacking into the voicemails of thousands of public figures to get scoops, sparking a major scandal that shook the press, police and politicians at the time.
Just hours before ITV’s <ITV.L> “Love Island” was due to return on Monday after two days off air, hundreds of thousands of people had signed online petitions calling for another inquiry and tougher rules around the way the press can cover celebrities.
One petition called for a ban on the use of anonymous quotes, the invasion of privacy, the publication of private information and medical records.
The daughter of a Coca-Cola sales representative, Flack began as a pizza waitress but became one of the most prominent female leaders of Britain’s boom in reality television.
On “Love Island” she presented a dating show that brings together young single men and women who have to couple up in a sunshine-soaked villa to win fame. Their intimate relationships, including in the bedroom, are broadcast on television while the public choose who to vote off the show.
Only those who avoid being dumped stand a chance of winning.
Flack had stepped down from presenting “Love Island” after she was charged with assaulting her boyfriend in December, a charge she denied. Her boyfriend, Lewis Burton, did not support the prosecution.
Flack herself had talked in the past about her problems with depression, and in December she used Instagram to thank those who had shown their support.
“This kind of scrutiny and speculation is a lot… for one person to take on their own,” she wrote. “I’m a human being at the end of the day and I’m not going to be silenced when I have a story to tell and a life to keep going with.
“I have nothing but love to give and best wishes for everyone.”
(Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Hugh Lawson)