Views Columnist Rachel Campbell highlights the hypocrisy that often accompanies the use of #BeKind.
The #BeKind movement arose in response to the death of presenter Caroline Flack, to encourage both individuals and the wider media to think before posting comments which could be detrimental to those on the receiving end. Caroline Flack had posted to Instagram a few months before her passing, with the message; “In a world where you can be anything, be kind”, inspiring the hashtag which calls for an end to the hateful comments similar to the onslaught she received online before her death. Of course, I agree that many people need to be reminded of the impact their words can have through a screen, and I’m sure it has made some people think twice before adding to the storm of hate directed at whoever is under fire on that occasion. However, like anything online, it can be manipulated. What happens when #BeKind is applied only when it allows someone to escape valid criticism, and forgotten when they are once again tearing someone else down?
The users I have witnessed using the hashtag #BeKind, are not often using it purely to encourage kindness. It has been warped and weaponised. Often, the people using this plea to be kind are the ones who are relentlessly harassing someone on a different occasion. As much as I dislike drawing attention to his platform, Piers Morgan exemplifies this. In response to the British LGBT Awards Twitter account claiming he has made transphobic comments in the past, Morgan used the hashtag, stating, “I’m not transphobic & have always supported transgender rights. So why are you encouraging this hate just for clicks? #BeKind”. The British LGBT Awards account subsequently attached a thread of articles showing instances where Morgan has clearly made transphobic comments or attacked members of the trans community. It is, then, quite a stretch to say the British LGBT Awards are “encouraging hate” by identifying someone as transphobic and offering examples of their offensive behaviour. People like Piers Morgan twist the #BeKind hashtag, using it to try and shift the blame to those who call out their offensive behaviour, rather than having to take accountability for the damaging comments they made in the first place. When Piers Morgan is simply identified as transphobic, based on several comments he has made, he implores people to #BeKind but feels no need to do so himself the next time that trans people are being targeted by the media.
What’s more, although the hashtag is well-intentioned, it could also encourage more engagement with hate comments. By engaging with these comments in any way, we fall into the trap of giving them a bigger platform. In a perfect world, telling people to be kinder online would be enough, but realistically it won’t eradicate hate. The hashtag could make users on the receiving end of negative comments feel a responsibility to try and make these trolls realise the impact of their words. They may then fall down a rabbit hole of being all-consumed by the growing numbers of hate they are engaging with, rather than stepping away from the screen. It is not the responsibility of the person receiving hate comments to make the perpetrator realise the error of their ways and become a kinder person. We only have control over ourselves and how we act towards other people.
The #BeKind movement began with more practical steps to change: hairdressers ridding their salons of gossip magazines which notoriously tear women down; raising funds for Samaritans using the #BeKind message Caroline had posted; signing petitions to enact stronger laws around online bullying. However, it has been reduced to a hashtag which seems only to serve those who are not following its message themselves. We shouldn’t forget stories like Caroline Flack’s, which show the real impact of bullying by the media and online, but we also shouldn’t allow these stories to be hijacked by those who only use them only to avoid criticism or put the negative spotlight on others.
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