Like the good Samaritans they are, the producers at ITV jumped in to save us from our collective January blues this year, with an additional series of Love Island that kicked off some five months before the usual scheduling.
No longer forced to wait until the summer months to sit indoors and watch tanned, svelte wannabe celebrities lie around in the sun, many of us tuned in to the sixth series of the reality dating show on the 12 January, the winter edition of which sees contestants live in a villa in South Africa for around eight weeks, instead of the usual Mallorca.
Sadly, though, the newly-launched winter series has failed to dominate our Whatsapp group chats and instead delivered a lacklustre display of drama, with only faint traces of chemistry between fame-hungry contestants.
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And the viewing figures attest to this; an average of 2.5m viewers tuned in to watch the season premiere, compared with around 3.3m for the series before and 2.9m for the series before that.
For many of that 2.5m, scrolling through Twitter and demonstrating their support – or disdain – for particular contestants as they vie for each other’s affections, coin corny catchphrases and attempt to form authentic connections in a matter of weeks is part and parcel of the viewing experience.
During Thursday evening’s episode, viewers watched as police officer Mike Boateng strived to woo student and VIP hostess Jess Gale, having been dumped just a couple of days prior by Leanne Amaning, claiming that he and Jess “have a good connection”.
The hashtag “Muggy Mike” soon began trending on Twitter, as some accused Mike of acting in a disingenuous manner towards Luke Mabbott, with whom Jess is currently coupled.
Originating during the 2017 series of Love Island, Muggy Mike was the harsh nickname given to contestant Mike Thalassitis by fellow islander Chris Hughes, when Mike coupled up with Chris’ love interest, Olivia.
When it was announced in March 2019, that Mike had taken his own life at the age of 26, reality television personality Sam Thompson, who starred alongside Mike on Celebs Go Dating, shared a heartfelt tribute to him on Instagram, in which he recalled Thalassitis speaking with “sadness” about the origin of the “Muggy Mike” nickname.
The revival of the “Muggy Mike” hashtag on Twitter this week prompted scores of criticism, with several people stating it demonstrated a complete lack of respect for Mike and his family.
“The fact that Muggy Mike is trending in the UK… did y’all not learn from the last time? People get carried away so quickly. It’s sickening,” one person tweeted. “People bringing back the nickname ‘muggy Mike’ is so disrespectful, people advocate for mental health but do things like this wtf,” another wrote. Luis Morrison, who competed in Love Island in 2015, described the use of the term as “sick and twisted”.
The deaths of Mike; Sophie Gradon, who died in 2018 two years after taking part in Love Island; and Steve Dymond, who died shortly after appearing as a guest on The Jeremy Kyle Show, sparked conversation about the care Love Island contestants receive when they are thrust into the spotlight upon leaving the villa.
Pleas made by former islanders following Mike’s death for Love Island to improve its treatment of participants’ mental wellbeing prompted the show’s producers to update their duty of care rules. Before the start of the 2019 series of Love Island, ITV announced that all contestants would receive a minimum of eight therapy sessions when they returned home. Psychological and medical assessments of all islanders were carried out before filming commenced, and they were given “bespoke training” on how to cope with social media, handle their finances and adjust to life after the show.
But while the producers of Love Island have taken positive steps towards better safeguarding the mental wellbeing of participants on the show, the same cannot be said for the millions of people who tune in to watch the show every night. What can be done to stop social media trolls from spewing hate and making malicious remarks that Love Islanders will likely be bombarded with when they leave the show?
For weeks, contestants live in a bubble in the villa, mostly unaware of what the public think of them. The shock of discovering that the entire country knows who you are – and has formulated strong opinions about your every move – is an undeniably overwhelming thought.
And before you dismiss Twitter trolls and suggest people “just ignore them” or “block them”, we know cyberbullying is a serious, wide-reaching issue. According to charity Enough is Enough, nearly half of young people have received “intimidating, threatening or nasty messages online”, while more than half of teenagers in the US say they have been “bullied or harassed” on the internet.
A report released by charity Barnardo’s in June 2019 detailed how young people’s mental health is affected by various aspects of social media. On the topic of online harassment, the report stated: “Insight from Barnardo’s services shows that cyberbullying can negatively affect children and young people’s self-esteem and, in some cases, can lead them to consider taking their own lives.”
Despite years of discussions about how to tackle cyberbullying on social media platforms, firms have been somewhat slow to react. This month, Twitter announced it is currently testing new features that could allow users to control who has the ability to respond to their tweets, or give them the option to block all replies. “We want to help people feel safe participating in the conversation on Twitter,” the social media platform stated.
But will this change the amount of offensive comments posted about reality TV stars? Unlikely. In April 2019, the government proposed the introduction of a regulator that would make it legally required for social media companies to protect their users, and yet accepted at the same time that cyberbullying and trolling are examples of behaviours that have “a less clear legal definition”.
No matter what your opinions of the current cohort of Love Island contestants, it’s worrying that less than a year after the death of Thalassitis, a number of viewers have already returned to adopting a hashtag with a troubling past while bashing out cruel tweets without a second thought to how they might impact their subject.
If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.
For services local to you, the national mental health database – Hub of Hope – allows you to enter your postcode to search for organisations and charities who offer mental health advice and support in your area.