She’s one of the most hated women on Australian television right now, and Married at First Sight‘s Davina Rankin is still dealing with the pain of death threats and cruel comments she received online.
But with close to 320,000 Instagram followers, the 26-year-old businesswoman from Brisbane said she planned to use her public profile to raise awareness around the issue of cyberbullying, and would soon meet with the Queensland state Labor MP Dianne Farmer to discuss the issue.
“I barely got out of this whole ordeal alive, I can’t even imagine what it would be like for younger boys and girls who have to deal with this alone,” Rankin told the ABC.
That ordeal she refers to is Rankin’s portrayal on the Nine Network’s popular reality television series which has been airing for several weeks.
‘This was a guy I’d only known for a week’
Rankin was paired with Ryan on the show, but took a liking to Dean, who was matched with Tracey.
Dean and Rankin “secretly” agreed to leave their respective partners to pursue a relationship, but at the last minute Dean changed his mind.
“It’s just crazy because people believe so much,” Rankin said.
“They genuinely believe I had an affair on my husband. This was a guy I’d only known for a week, we’re not boyfriend and girlfriend, let alone husband and wife.
“And if it was such a ‘secret’ why were there cameras in my face the whole time?”
Cue Rankin’s social media being flooded with messages and comments about her being a “homewrecker” and “every slander word you can imagine”.
“I’ve had people tell me they would punch me if they saw me on the street … death threats.
“I feel like if I go to the shops, all of those people that have commented on a meme about me are going to be there,” Rankin said through tears.
— Shannon (@shannonisbel) February 23, 2018
— Shunter (@Shunter86) February 23, 2018
Davina: “You’re going to hate me”
All of Australia: “We all do already!”#MAFS
— Cathy Crawley (@cathy_crawley) February 25, 2018
Reality TV stars are an easy target
Emma A Jane from the University of NSW, and author of Misogyny Online: A Short (and Brutish) History, said people often felt directing abuse at celebrities as opposed to “ordinary people” was ethically OK.
“Online hate might be seen as simply a necessary – and to be expected – consequence of being in the fame game,” she said.
But when it came to reality television which often involved more “amateur or accidental” celebrities, she said that raised different ethical issues.
“It is likely that such people are more psychologically, physically and financially vulnerable to hate campaigns than seasoned celebrities,” Dr Jane said.
‘Enjoyable hate-watching’ turned hate speech
When looking at Rankin’s case, however, Dr Jane said it was important “to keep some perspective”.
“Surely, you would have to be quite naive to sign up for a fake marriage reality television program in the expectation that viewers would always respond to your actions in a measured and nuanced way,” Dr Jane said.
“After all, this sort of manufactured outrage and on- and off-air drama is exactly what the makers of such shows are banking on.”
But she said when online commentary turned into misogyny, racism and homophobia, that was unacceptable.
“We really do need to be more mindful about not letting enjoyable hate-watching turn into oppressive hate speech,” she said.
Rankin said she felt betrayed by the network that approached her to appear, because how she had been typecast was “such a contradiction” to who she really was.
“I should have seen the warning signs, they were looking for a specific person to fill my character’s role – they already knew what they wanted from my character before they even met me.”
She isn’t the first reality television contestant to experience this kind of backlash.
David Wilke, who was in Australia’s first season of The Bachelorette, and Sandra Rato who appeared on The Bachelor, were shocked and hurt after their appearances on the shows.
Women the worst offenders
Rankin said women have been the biggest perpetrators of the online abuse directed toward her.
“It is mostly women that are sending cruel messages. Telling me I’m such a bad woman, when in actual fact I do so much to help women,” she said.
“All my businesses are surrounded with empowering women and bringing women together.”
Bullying expert from Queensland University of Technology Professor Marilyn Campbell said “the sisterhood isn’t going strong in society”.
“I also think that women are afraid if they don’t criticise that behaviour they will be seen to condone it, then they will get hurt as well,” Professor Campbell said.
She said what Rankin would be experiencing was a mix of trolling, cyberbullying and negative criticism, and despite the labels, they all had the same impact.
“The bottom line is they are all hurtful … they are all really gross behaviours that we don’t want to have online,” she said.
“We want to have stability and kindness online, just as we do offline.”
She said victims of online abuse could experience post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.
“Whether you are bullying, trolling or negatively criticising, you are wrecking their mind set about themselves, their self esteem.
“The person begin to doubt themselves more and more. It’s is unbelievably stressing and hurtful.”
Victims at risk of depression, self-harm
Dr Jane recently interviewed more than 50 women for research into gendered cyber-hate and said there were reports of anxiety, depression, panic attacks, agoraphobia and self-harm as a result of being abused online.
Rankin said networks needed to be better role models when it came to online behaviour.
“We need something put in place that people can’t feel as attacked,” she said.
“Especially when it’s coming from magazines or the network – posting memes about them, it gives the young people the right to do that themselves.
“Set better examples. Social media posts are up there forever, people feed off the hate and it gets to a point of no return.”
Ms Farmer confirmed her scheduled meeting with Rankin and said “in terms of bullying issues in general I have absolutely zero tolerance for bullying of any kind, in any place”.
The Nine Network said all participants were provided with a full social media briefing prior to transmission.
“There is ongoing support for the duration of the show and we monitor all participant’s social media accounts so that we are aware of and manage any negative commentary. We are very proactive in this space and take our duty of care very seriously.”
Rankin used the professional support from the network, but said she wasn’t satisfied with the therapy services provided.