On Monday, an artist posted a photo of three workmen in a queue at McDonalds on her Instagram story with the caption: “They look like they got 1 GCSE”.
Within hours, Twitter was revelling in collective outrage, dragging the name of 25-year-old Hetty Douglas, the owner of this cruel and misguided comment. Douglas went from a relatively unknown young artist to a national hate figure overnight.
Search “Hetty Douglas” on Twitter now and you’ll be greeted with a torrent of abuse that’s been relentless for days. Scrolling through the tweets is like watching a deer being thrown to a pack of lions; and watching the little heart button pop as the number of favourites goes up serves as a quiet reminder that people are behind their screens rubbing their hands together with glee, desperate to watch it be torn apart.
The thing that makes this scene so uncomfortable is how easily avoidable it was. How differently things would have turned out if one of Douglas’ friends had sent a quick reply to her Instagram story yesterday: "Mate, this is so low” or even a simple “Delete this, Hetty.”
Maybe she'd have had time to pause – look at her story through another’s eyes; think about how it could be deemed as offensive; deleted it before the tabloids got hold of it and turned her world upside down.
Some say she deserves the public rinsing – she shouldn’t have wrote it in the first place – but nailing Douglas to the cross as a symbol of our grievances with the London art scene and gentrification and the appropriation of working class culture does nothing towards solving the problems at hand.
Rather than tearing Douglas down about her assumed family status (her dad, it transpires, actually is a builder), her privilege and her looks, we should be raising discussions about classism and inequality. We should be confronting the huge media and fashion brands who are now tearing her down after presumably helping to cement her up-and-coming status in the first place.
Most of all, we need to be educating people about the dangers of sharing flippant comments on social media, because it can ruin your life.
The address of what’s presumed to be Douglas’ family home in Nottingham, her personal email address and her phone number have all been leaked online. This is beyond public shaming; this is a lynch mob. This is trolling en masse, with Twitter users everywhere finding safety in numbers, finally able to tear down the figure who’s become a symbol of everything they purport to hate.
They want someone to blame for deep-rooted problems in our society, and now they’re thirsty for Douglas’ blood. But the idea that she’s some rich snob, living on handouts from her parents while singlehandedly gentrifying south London, is completely unfounded – we know nothing about Hetty Douglas’ background. The Hetty Douglas narrative is simply something we’ve created in a desperate attempt to crucify her for the sins of the industry that made her.
For all I know, Hetty Douglas could be a white, classist, upper middle class posho living on handouts from her mum and dad while knowingly making art that fetishises working class culture. But she’s also a woman experiencing an unprecedented tirade of abuse of online abuse that’s going to be nigh on impossible to come back from.
When all the hot takes have dried up and Twitter has died down, all that will be left are the tatters of a 25-year-old woman’s career. If that’s something to be proud of, I’m not sure I want to be part of the resistance.
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