‘We need laws and legislations’: Reality TV stars hit back at online abuse

Australian reality TV stars have commended a confronting segment on the US version of The Bachelor that highlighted the bullying and abuse participants received from viewers online.

In the viral segment, Rachel Lindsay – who in 2017 became the franchise's first black Bachelorette – shared the racist abuse she received from viewers. "I know it's uncomfortable for you to see this. Just imagine how uncomfortable it is to get this in your comments and your DMs every day, week, months," she told the show's viewers as she read out explicit messages that had been sent to contestants. When she asked this season's field of US contestants if they'd experienced anything similar, everyone put a hand up.

Rachel Lindsay’s confronting segment on The Bachelor US has earned praise from local reality TV stars and fans alike. Credit:Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Emma Roche, who featured in last year's season of Network 10's The Bachelor Australia, says she was impressed by the segment and urged local broadcasters to follow suit in reminding viewers that such behaviour is unacceptable.

"I think it would be well-received if Australian shows did a similar thing," she says. "With everything that's coming out of late, especially with Caroline Flack and there's been a couple of reality TV contestants in the UK who've [taken their own lives], it's important that people know that horrible things can happen to people by bullying them."

Caroline Flack, a popular UK TV presenter and the former host of Love Island UK, took her own life in mid-February, with many fans placing blame on abuse she received on social media.

Roche says despite entering her stint on The Bachelor with the awareness that she "may not be shown in the best light", she was still shocked by the abuse she received.

"The advice given to me was just avoid it, try not to look at it, try not to take it too seriously. But it's hard when you've got people actively DMing you on Instagram with horrible comments like 'you're a f—wit', 'no wonder you're single'," she recalls. "It was relentless. I didn't really know what to do. I went to ground. I didn't want to go out. I was so embarrassed."

Ines Basic, who appeared on Nine's Married at First Sight last year, says she experienced "severe harassment" following her controversial stint on the series.

"I ended up in therapy because the things I received were so disturbing," she says. "I had threats so severe the police were monitoring my house and I was given a code if I had to urgently call them in. Some of the things I've seen are insane."

A refugee from war-torn Bosnia, she also received xenophobic taunts saying she should be deported.

But can reality TV shows that thrive on concocted drama protect participants from the devastating effects of viewer abuse and harassment? Basic says a simple public service message, such as the segment aired on the US Bachelor, isn't enough to curb such abuse.

Former MAFS contestant Ines Basic says greater laws are needed to curb online harassment and abuse.Credit:Nigel Wright/Nine

"The only way people will actually stop bullying online, and not just reality TV stars, is if there's serious punishment. We need laws and legislations," she says.

Beyond TV networks and producers, she says social media sites such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook need to take a stronger responsibility in preventing the proliferation of abuse.

Vanessa Sunshine, who appeared in 2018's sixth season of 10's The Bachelor, says "viewers need to take some accountability". She said she sympathised with Lindsay's message, especially the anger expressed over her ethnicity coming under attack.

"Viewers need to be reminded that we exist outside the screen," she says. "Like, if they didn't have a keyboard right there, would they actually go and say these things to someone's face? Bullying in any form, in the workplace or on the street, it's not nice. And for it to be amplified on such a public level, it can get very dangerous."

Bachelor contestant Vanessa Sunshine, with Nick Cummins.Credit:Network 10

The perception that because someone has gone on a reality show means it's open season on public judgement is troubling, says Sunshine.

"Words hurt, and they have consequences. I don't think the public really know how disgusting some of the things we receive are. And it might be important for them to actually see those words back in front of them."

A Network 10 spokesperson said the network "takes its duty of care of participants on all of our programs very seriously. We work closely with our production partners to ensure the participants have access to a psychologist at all times. In addition, 10 and our production partners have staff dedicated to providing assistance and guidance to the participants pre-and-post show to make sure they receive the support they need."

Nine, the owner of this masthead, declined to comment on the debate but pointed to recent social media posts around this season's MAFS which urged viewers to be civil in their comments to the show's contestants.

Support is available for those who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; beyondblue 1300 224 636.

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