“It turned from light hearted to nasty quite quickly. I think people lose touch with the fact there is a real person behind all of this – a human being.”
On Friday, Scarlett Dixon, who blogs under the name ‘Scarlett London’, found herself at the centre of a social media storm, after she posted a photo on Instagram in paid partnership with mouthwash brand Listerine – where an influencer creates promotional content on behalf of a brand, these posts typically tend to be signposted with a sub-header that reads “Paid partnership with” or with the hashtags #ad or #spon.
The post showed a supposed snippet of her “morning routine”. Dixon is sat on her bed, with a full face of make-up and styled hair, surrounded by balloons, her breakfast and a bottle of Listerine, placed not-so-subtly in view.
The post was nothing unusual for the 24-year-old who has been blogging since 2011, but within hours a friend messaged to say she was at the centre of a Twitter storm, which raged on throughout the weekend.
“Initially, I found the comments quite funny. I don’t take myself too seriously as a person and am happy to have a bit of a light-hearted joke,” she tells HuffPost UK, adding that the comments quickly turned to “shaming” her.
A screenshot of her post, which has been retweeted more than 23,000 times and liked more than 101,000 times, was accompanied by the caption: “Fuck off this is anybody’s normal morning. Instagram is a ridiculous lie factory made to make us all feel inadequate.”
Thousands of others also posted criticism of Dixon and the post – she claims some even sent death threats, which appear to now be deleted.
Much of the criticism surrounding the post is around its lack of authenticity, with some claiming it contributes to a culture that puts pressure on young girls to live an unrealistic “picture perfect” lifestyle. But Dixon argues she is transparent about staging photographs for the purposes of posts and her photos aren’t meant to be a realistic reflection of her life, or anybody else’s. Indeed, she captioned the original post: “I don’t show you my real bed hair (trust me, it’s not pretty).”
To critics who claimed Dixon’s content was “damaging and harmful to young people”, she says: “Instagram is a highlight reel of filtered lives. I think we are underestimating educated young people if we truly think that they believe every photo they see is total reality and not staged in the slightest.”
Of course, we can’t ignore the potentially damaging impact social media has, with research from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and the Young Health Movement (YHM) naming Instagram the “most dangerous” social media site for young people’s mental health, linking it to low body image and self-esteem. Following the initial backlash, Dixon tweeted to say her post could have been used to instigate an “intelligent conversation” about social media use.
“I think perhaps I may have been a scapegoat for the wider provision of Instagram,” she adds.
Having said that, she does not intend to change her posting style in the future in order to accurately reflect real life, saying: “I love the content I create and I’ve received some really positive feedback from people of all ages who says that my content makes them feel good too. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, and I’m okay with that.”
But there is a darker side to the backlash Dixon has received, namely, the vulnerability of being a woman on the internet. The blogger claims to have received numerous death threats and “vicious comments”, which friends reported to Twitter and appear to have now been removed. She also claims to have received “lots of private messages containing vile content”.
“I was very upset over the weekend but the overarching feeling I had was sadness that these people felt the need to be so cruel to somebody they’d never met before,” she says. “I am a 24-year-old woman who has dealt with bullying in my past. I’m sensitive and human, but strong.”
Dixon has an 11-year-old sister and says the experience of this weekend has made her concerned for the next generation’s future online: “I am scared for the online world she will grow up in and have to face.”
There is a lack of accountability online, says the blogger, but to combat cyberbullying she’d like to see greater awareness around its impact and more support for those who find themselves at the centre of viral posts.
“I’m extremely lucky that I have a wonderful support system in place and a thick skin, however it could have happened to another young girl or guy, who may not have had that same support system in place. Or who may have found the vile comments particularly difficult to digest,” she says.
“Cyberbullying and jumping on the bandwagon of a bullying thread ‘just for a laugh’, isn’t an excuse to make another human being feel awful. I’d like to try and raise awareness for this and hope that in the future, we have something in place in case this does happen to a vulnerable young person. ”