AS A person who operates in the social media space, I am well used to feedback. I receive great support from friendly followers, and a smattering of bitter criticism.

9000 (nine thousand) followers. Splash paint inscription

It is part of the job. And it is part of life. After all, there is no writer, actor, politician, celebrity — hell, no human being — who is universally loved.

Recently, superstar blogger Constance Hall learned that the hard way, when she was criticized by blogger The Notorious Mum. Her response, which triggered an online war, revealed far more about social media than it did about the women involved.

The feud, in which hundreds of Hall’s followers went on the rampage defending her, demonstrates the fundamental problem of our social media age: people can be catapulted to extraordinary fame almost overnight, without having the emotional or practical tools to deal with their power.

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Social media fame is still a very new phenomenon. In the past, famous people — actors, musicians, politicians, celebrity royals — would be shielded from the general public by managers and agents. They would be coached, given media training, and presented to their fans only through staged press conferences.

These days, superstars talk directly to their fans in real time, and it is the intimacy and authenticity of this communication that forms the cornerstone of social media. And we want our bloggers and ‘influence rs’ to be authentic. We want them to talk to us as though we are intimate friends. It was that style that made them stars in the first place.

The problem is, you simply cannot talk to a million people as though they are intimate friends. Or rather, you can, as Constance did, but there are painful consequences.

Constance’s willingness to share everything (including her lows) is something fans love about her.

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You can know your intimate friends. You can know that they will have your back, and guide you in the right direction. An intimate friend — or, in the old days, agent or manager — would have said to Hall, “Darl, you have nearly a million people who love you. Who cares about one who doesn’t?”

 But a million people are not true friends. Some of those million will shout for revenge, bay for blood, and go out and seek it. Some of those million will enjoy seeing you distressed, because it is like a real-life soap opera being played out before their eyes. Some of those million will want to create drama, because they’re a little bit bored, and drama is fun.

Either way, another human being got hurt. And that could have absolutely been prevented.

‘But The Notorious Mum shouldn’t have criticized her!’ I hear you shout. ‘If you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all!’

Well, let me respond. Criticism of people in power is important. Not just important. It is vital. (And Hall has a huge amount of power, as evidenced by the recent events.) Critique of people of influence is the foundation of a democratic, progressive society. Without critique, we have blind acceptance of ideas.

 

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Without critique, we have people like Belle Gibson, who was never questioned about her claims of having cancer until she had swindled people out of money. Without critique, influence rs who promote eating disorders, or judgment of other women, or body shaming, would go Unchallenged.

Now, of course Constance Hall isn’t peddling snake oil, or shaming women, or spreading hate. But she has a very strong message, and whether it resonates with you or not, that message is worthy of critique, because she is hugely influential.

The problem, however, is not with Constance Hall. The problem lies is the very nature of social media, and the ability of ordinary people to achieve extraordinary influence. As Pip Lincolne, blogger at meetmeatmikes wrote recently:

“It’s a mess. Basically. It’s broken. We’re elevating people whose authentic voices we love — but they’re unprepared for the job at hand — and then we’re super scathing of them when they make mistakes. And we want to be able to tell them why their way of life is completely crap and have them respond diplomatically. Ugh.”

With power comes great responsibility, whether it is sought or not. Some bloggers and influence rs handle fame well. I have seen bloggers ignore slights, and deflect criticism with humor. But others are more sensitive, or impulsive, or just plain entitled. And when there are adoring fans who will act on their every word, the ripple effect can be huge.

Stressed young woman in the city holding laptop.

I don’t know what the solution is. While regular people can achieve sudden, immense fame, we will continue to face this problem. This is a dangerous space we operate in. We all have to act with care.

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