Imagine walking up to someone you’ve never met before and calling them a snake. 

Or stopping a passer-by in the street to tell them you hate their outfit or that their lips look ridiculous. 

What about taking it even further and actually expressing a desire for them to come to harm, or die even? 

You just wouldn’t dream of it, would you? 

Yet that’s exactly the kinds of comments people are posting on some of the social media profiles of the latest round of Love Island contestants. 

“…you projected all your insecurities and acted like a baby it’s embarrassing…”

We’re all aware of the very high-profile deaths of three people connected to the programme. 

Former islanders Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis, and the presenter, Caroline Flack, all died by suicide. 

While the reasons for a mental health crisis that leads to suicide is complex, Caroline’s death in particular followed endless media coverage and online harassment. 

Indeed, after the former X Factor presenter took her own life in February 2020, the internet was awash with #bekind messages as the horrifying impact of online trolling was laid bare. 

Amid increased scrutiny of the aftercare and support provided to reality television contestants and its own presenters, ITV brought in additional safeguards. 

One of these was a ban on anyone running the islander’s social media accounts during their time on the show. 

Ordinarily, while contestants had no access to their phones or the internet while in the villa, friends or family have operated their accounts on their behalf. 

The aim under the new rule was to shield them from the disgusting and personal attacks posted by often faceless trolls. 

Yet, within days of Kai and Sanam being declared winners, the trolls were out in force. 

“…get out we can’t stand you…”

It’s truly depressing. 

It is even more alarming given that the majority of culprits are adults, according to the founder of leading anti-bullying charity Bullies Out

Linda James asks: “What type of message are we giving to young people today? 

“We’re supposed to be role models for the younger generations.” 

While all bullying is wrong, Linda says online bullying is particularly harmful as perpetrators can access their victims at anytime and anywhere. 

There is no escape from online abuse, short of closing accounts, restricting comments or trying to ignore the vitriol. 

But, as the accounts of the islanders show, even closing accounts or stopping comments isn’t effective. 

The trolls are simply posting on other accounts and tagging the contestant they’re criticising – making sure their comment will be seen by the intended target. 

“…she’s a s*** and you truly are a waste…”

Some even unashamedly criticise and ridicule their intended target for erasing abusive comments. 

The harm is further magnified, says Linda, because oftentimes the comments go viral. 

Whereas prior to the creation of the internet, abusive comments might be heard only by the perpetrator and the victim, they are now shared and liked by thousands within hours. 

The original comment can also attract even more abuse, further amplifying the hurt for the person on the receiving end. 

Furthermore, Linda argues it is “easier said than done” to simply ignore abusive comments – especially when trolls go to the trouble of tagging their intended target. 

“…you were painful to watch so manipulative and literally in the wrong the whole time… do better…”

ITV now faces a conundrum. 

Banning social media hasn’t stopped the trolls – but it has resulted in this season’s Love Island contestants not gaining as many followers as in previous series. 

And we all know that while the aim of the game is to find their one true love, we also know many of the islanders want to build a lucrative career out of appearing on the programme. 

It has even been claimed the number of applicants for the next series has fallen due to the position on social media. 

After all, the more followers you have, the more companies are willing to pay for collaborations. 

There is also the point that the islanders are, to some extent, opening themselves up to scrutiny by appearing in a reality television programme. 

They’re also relying on public support to be crowned the winning couple. 

Does it not follow, therefore, that the public will have an opinion on their appearance, their personalities, their recoupling decisions? 

“…your absurd behaviour is so childish girl…”

Of course, but as Linda says, that doesn’t mean random members of the public has to go to the trouble of telling them what they think. 

“I think responsibility is the missing word,” she says. 

“We have the right not to be hurt and we have a responsibility not to hurt. 

“From our perspective, it’s about education, education, education. I suppose we would ask people to be kind and say that if they can’t be kind, then be quiet. 

“If you don’t like Love Island or the people on it, then don’t watch it, and if you don’t like certain social media accounts, then don’t follow them. 

“There is no need to go out of your way to be horrible to someone, life is too short for that.”