With the Love Island Final set to be watched by over 5 million people, the remaining couples in the villa are inching closer to a potential win of £50,000, as well – of course – their one true love? After the whispers of love and emotion are declared, the winners are announced, the prize money is received and the Spanish dust settles, what happens then? Weel, for the contestants themselves, they are catapulted into a life of media management, meet and greets, and social media fame – but what happens to them and the 5 million people who watched their declarations of love for the world to see, hashtag, and comment on.
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That’s when Good Contestants become Good Friends
Not too dissimilar to soap dramas, audiences watch hours of fictional storylines - feeling that they are ‘one’ with the characters - this is the storyline of Love Island, but with real people. Psychologists highlight viewers who binge-watch such reality TV shows with the same characters may develop a parasocial interaction with the contestants; an unreciprocated friendship or connection one may feel with fictional characters or media personalities. How we respond to the participants and characters of reality tv and drama has a lot to do with our need to empathise with the person, fictional or not, in that given situation. Our own previous experiences with what the person may be going through may reflect our own personal thoughts, feelings and experiences, creating an element of empathy for that ‘character’. With this parasocial relationship, a viewer may extend emotional energy, interest and time, and feel a closeness and connecton in their lives with a person who does not know that they exist. In this sense, the viewer may feel emotion toward a particular contestant, based purely on the storyline they have been part of. This phenomenon is frequently discussed by numerous soap actors, with TV viewers blurring lines between reality and fiction, shouting at actors in the street about their behaviour on a scripted fictional soap or tv show, worlds away from their normal lives. Research suggests viewers fundamentally become so invested in the contestants lives and storylines, the exciting events of the show, and the exhilarating plot twists in which it all happens. When it’s all over, they may be faced with a feeling of emptiness, a dull sense reality associated with lower mood and feelings, depression, social interaction anxiety, and even loneliness.
However, not all is lost – due to the world of 24/7 social media, Love Island never actually ends. Whilst the show is on each night, Love Island allows the ability to communicate in their sponsored real-life online forum, Reddit, allowing the audience to comment in real time, to a mass of virtual potential responses. In addition to the hashtags and tweeted opinions live throughout airtime, the addition of the contestants’ social media profiles being kept up to date by friends and family has blurred the lines between the contestants lives before during and after their time on the show.
Much of the psychological challenges and issues that have been associated with Love Island have stemmed from, or been linked with, the aftermath of the social media barrage directed at the contestants after their time on the show. This convergence of fact vs fiction, how we feel about a character in comparison to how the producers portray their storyline, can have a direct impact on their popularity - positive or negative - once back in the real world. Love Island contestants futures flourish or flounder based on their social media impact after the show has come to an end. This challenge of being thrust into the limelight, alongside the continual critique that comes from the invisible instigators, the “Keyboard Karen’s (or Ken’s)”, can directly affect one’s mental health – so widely seen recently in the media linked to Love Island and Reality TV Shows.
Behind the Keyboard, why do some think it’s okay to abuse Reality Stars?
“They deserve it, look at them, they chose to do this, they were asking for it”. All comments and statements seen across social media when questioning others need to troll and verbally abuse reality TV stars. Yet turn those statements on their head to physically abusive statements and it’s not so innocent. Psychologists define keyboard warriors, or trolls, as individuals with a sense of emotional inner turmoil, using their perceived power to invisibly belittle others as a way to self-satisfy their internal crisis. Recent research found keyboard warriors have personality traits associated with the dark triad of personality; narcissism, machiavellianism, psychopathy. The safety behind the keyboard allows people the opportunity to say what they feel without the apparent repercussions of the negative emotional and verbal abuse that would be deemed unacceptable within face to face society. These challenges with social media and cyberbullying have only been exacerbated over the past 24 months whereby online and social media platforms have been the main way to communicate through an unprecedented pandemic. With applications such as TikTok and Instagram soaring during this time, keyboard warriors with additional time at their fingertips and the evidential mental health challenges of the pandemic, project their inner misery to others in the form of written abuse.
We must all remember that reality stars are humans too.
As watchers of Love Island, or any reality show – Strictly, I’m a celebrity, even Bake off – we must remember that the participants may be entertainment on a show, but they are also human. Even though the saying regarding sticks and stones may hold true, words, negative comments and abuse via the direct social media channels can truly hurt us. With recent mental health challenges seen in the media and their association to Love Island contestants, more communication needs to be drawn between the support they receive on the outside world of Love Island. The contestants may go into the villa a ‘relatively unknown’ person in society, and come out of the villa armed with a barrage of messages, all pre-conceived based on a storyline and dramatic editing of the Love Island Reality TV show. This exponential rise in societal awareness for them as a person, a character, and a celebrity, creates a fundamental shift in their lives so dramatic that additional support to take time for themselves is not only needed, but paramount to a successful cohesion of their new found fame and their life before Love Island.