Shakira found half-eaten strawberry jam in the fridge. Gwyneth only eats bone broth for lunch. Hailey mocks Selena’s laminated eyebrows in an Instagram story. Taylor’s career is at an all-time high, but let’s just talk about her dating life.
The press about these individuals’ lives is constant because media users are deeply invested into other people’s lives. At first these tabloid pieces, videos, and posts seem petty and a relatively harmless source of entertainment. After all, we’re just spectators from afar enjoying a juicy narrative unfold without being directly involved. We’re attracted to these stories and we like choosing sides.
But it got me thinking and wondering, has our curiosity of celebrities turned into something darker? Since a young age, my Islamic upbringing has taught me to cover the faults of others. The verse, “...Avoid much suspicion; for suspicion in some cases is a sin. And spy not, nor backbite one another” (49:13) has always been ingrained in me.
It wasn’t until recently that I reflected on how indulging in internet gossip can have the same harm as it does in real life. Every month it seems like there’s new internet gossip. With little insight into celebrity lives, people get so invested into these stories that they resort to creating theories and spreading misinformation. Soon, public discourse and speculations quickly turn into nasty, toxic commentary filled with malicious mocking and threats.
According to the APA dictionary, gossip is “personal talk or communication of often unsubstantiated information.” While talking with your friends about the latest celebrity breakup is probably relatively harmless, it is also another form of gossip. Gossip in our everyday lives has the same consequences as it does online when commenting on public figures.
Like us, celebrities are normal people who feel hurt from toxic online comments and rumors. The reality is we don't know anything about their lives – no matter how much we speculate. Using social media to target celebrities who are tagged in posts during intense periods can cause real mental harm without ever meeting them. We don’t always see if we’re hurting or uplifting in the process.
Constance Wu is a reminder of how celebrity gossip can be harmful. During 2019, Wu attempted suicide after getting hate on social media.
The backlash sparked after she expressed disappointment about her sitcom that was being renewed, tweeting that she was “so upset right now that I’m literally crying.” She was labeled “ungrateful” among many other remarks and Wu deleted the tweets apologizing, and left social media for three years.
To the outside observer, Wu is a famous actor who is far away enough from reality to be affected by some remarks made online. But, we still don’t know what the person on the other side of the screen is going through.
Instead of participating in hurtful discourse, picking loyalties for our favorite public figures, or being tempted by juicy scandals, we should ask ourselves, why? Why does it matter? Why are we so invested in the lives of strangers?
Why is it even our business? How would we feel if this kind of commentary was being spread about us?
We will continue to struggle with handling the gossip in our day to day lives and to ignore what we are constantly being bombarded with by the media. If people did know the person they were exchanging theories and speculating about was struggling with their mental health, they’d be a lot nicer. But since we can’t know one way or the other, we sacrifice only a meaningless source of entertainment by being kind.