While appearing on a TV show like The Circle can bring a level of fame and new opportunities for contestants, we're sadly all too aware that there's a dark downside to being a reality TV star, with online abuse rife. The extent of just how terrible it can be has been highlighted by Manrika Khaira, 25, who came second in the most recent series of the hit Channel 4 show that gives contestants the chance to win £100,000 by socialising with others via messages alone.
Although the show has only recently finished airing on TV, it was filmed in September 2020, meaning Manrika was back at home and able to read comments on social media as episodes aired. She's spoken to BBC's Newsbeat about the online abuse she's received, including death threats, that got so bad at one point she didn't get out of bed for three days.
"It's been very scary. My address has been leaked on Twitter, my address has been posted on Instagram pages," she said, adding that this took a "huge toll" on her mental health.
As you might expect of a game show contestant, Manrika was open from the start of the series that she was playing to win, even if that meant playing tactically. She sent home Tally, a contestant she'd become close with, at which point the abuse intensified.
"I think a lot of people got mixed up with The Circle being a reality TV show rather than a game show," Manrika said. "People saw it as snakey and backstabbing."
Manrika has spoken about how being a woman of colour makes a difference when in the public eye.
"A lot of people have said: 'If that was a man, we would have thought he was an absolute genius.' Those comments have come to me," she said.
"My dad said to me numerous times: 'You're a woman of colour. It makes a difference.'"
Channel 4, Manrika's management and other contestants have publicly condemned the trolling and Manrika said she's received good support from Channel 4, with 24-hour access to a psychiatrist.
"As much support as Channel 4 is giving me, there isn't much that they can do about trolls or fake accounts," she said.
Manrika and her fellow cast members wanted to take matters into their own hands, and joined together to make a video encouraging people to be kinder online.
"Each and every single one of us has received some form of online abuse or hate, which is part of the experience that's not been great for us," said Circle player Shabaz in the video.
"If there's anything we can learn from some of the horrifying devastations of amazing personalities in the past, it's that words can cut deep - even from people we don't know," said the show's winner Natalya.
Manrika said that since the video was posted, she's received apologies from some trolls, although that isn't all she needs to change.
"I don't expect an apology from people. I expect people going forward to just think about things," she said.
Manrika's horrible and unacceptable experience definitely serves as yet another reminder about the importance of everyone being kind to one another online and treating reality TV stars with empathy.
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