The Latest in Celebrity Online Abuse: Josh McDermitt Quits Social Media

Another one bites the dust: Josh McDermitt quit social media recently over online abuse. The Walking Dead star closed his accounts—Twitter, Instagram and Facebook—right after the show’s season finale. Before his departure, McDermitt made a final Facebook Live broadcast to give parting words and put trolls on blast. The latest case on online abuse of celebrities, McDermitt’s story is sadly all too common.

No Social Media Protection For Death Threats

According to McDermitt, the actor faced death threats throughout his time on the show along with other abuse. The abusive remarks seem to be in response to his role on the Walking Dead. “When you start saying you hope I die,” McDermitt said on his Facebook broadcast, “I don’t know if you’re talking about Josh or Eugene. I gotta report that s—t.” He railed against the trolls, suggesting they live their own lives offline rather than target others on social media.

The Response to McDermitt’s Celebrity Online Abuse

After McDermitt quit social media, fans flocked to the networks to voice their support for the star. Rallying around the hashtag #TWDFamily, fans paid tribute to try to offset the hatred McDermitt faced. While the goodwill and kind words are heartwarming, the entire situation reminds us that social networks often fail to protect users—even celebrities.

After actress Leslie Jones faced an onslaught of abuse on Twitter, the network suspended Milo Yiannoppoulos, an influential writer who’d taken part in the brigade. Many applauded the move, viewing it as a statement that Twitter would finally curb abuse that the platform garnered a reputation for. Months later, the social network is still viewed as a bastion for trolls. To truly be safe, celebrities need social media protection.

Celebrity Online Abuse is Too Common

While online abuse is prevalent across the internet for marginalized communities, celebrities face a unique brand of abuse. For McDermitt, the problem was fans who seem to have difficulty separating fact from fiction: their hatred towards his character translated to perceived death threats against the actor himself.

A lot of hate slung at celebrities is in response to their public personas—regardless of who they are behind the scenes. Social media provides an excellent way for celebrities to show candid, honest portrayals of themselves to fans. But for celebrities, it also provides a collated feed of abuse right on their timelines.

This has caused a revolving door of celebrities to walk away from social media. Justin Bieber quit Instagram not too long after his relationship became the subject of public debate. Daisy Riley of Star Wars: The Force Awakens fame left Instagram too after an anti-gun violence post was met with backlash. Lena Dunham famously stopped tweeting, but now has an assistant post to the platform on her behalf to avoid the hate. The list of cyberbullied celebrities goes on.

How to Handle Online Abuse of Celebrities

Just as Dunham had done, celebrities protect themselves from abuse by employing assistants to handle social tasks. A mediator doesn’t have to mean distancing oneself from their fans; Adele, for example, writes her own tweets, which are approved and published by her management.

It’s well known that Kim Kardashian handles all her social media accounts herself. Those who want to follow suit while protecting themselves from celebrity online abuse may do so with the help of automated comment moderation. The big networks each have their own brand of native comment moderation tools for social media protection, and third-party tools—like our own—are available to fill in the gaps where native tools fail.

Social media has a lot to offer celebs, both the big ones and the smaller (yet influential) content creators making names for themselves online. The communities allow them to form deep connections with their fans, show off a new side of themselves, and gain insight into what their fans say and think. No one should have to walk away from social media in fear, but with social media protection tools, they may continue engaging with their communities.