'Love Island' Contestants Talk Social Media Trolls in U.K. TV Probe

Courtesy of ITV
'Love Island'

Their appearances were part of a parliamentary committee probe into reality TV and talk shows and the support TV companies provide participants.

Two former contestants of U.K. hit reality show Love Island on Wednesday answered questions of a British parliamentary committee in London, including on the stress of dealing with social media trolls after the show.

The ITV show in July ended its fifth season in Britain with strong ratings. ITV then announced that it would air two runs of the show in 2020.

Wednesday's session of the House of Commons' Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee featured former Love Island participants Yewande Biala and Marcel Somerville, who answered questions on the role of producers in influencing the behavior of contestants, mental health support provided to them and how they were prepared for life after the show. The representation of race and gender and the role of body image on Love Island were also topics of debate.

Biala, who appeared on this summer's season, and Somerville, who was on the 2017 season, both told the committee that they got psychiatric evaluations before being chosen for the show and support after their respective seasons wrapped. One committee member suggested that the support provided by ITV has improved since Somerville's season based on the two stars' accounts.

For example, Biala said she got social media training after the show on "how to handle certain situations, how to block comments and people or how to report things." She explained, "There is only so much they can prepare you for. … I feel I was fully prepared and mentally prepared." Asked about her reactions to potential social media abuse and trolls, she said, "What I learned is not to read my [direct message] requests."

Meanwhile, Somerville said he had not received any training, but figured out how to deal with social media issues. "There will be racist stuff," he said. "I went through privacy settings and blocked certain words."

He also suggested that some of the pressures of Love Island fame hit only later. "The whole time on the show is fine," Somerville told the committee, suggesting that some time after coming off the show is when things get harder. "The press will jump on to anything. If you have a public breakup, you think this is the worst period ever, and then you get trolls who add fire to it. That was the worst part of being on the show."

He suggested another psych evaluation well after ending one's run on the show in addition to one a week after, saying, "It should be one, three or six months down the line because that's when you're dealing with it."

The committee also asked if producers influence contestants' behavior or if the way the show is edited distorts reality. Biala said the editing of the show was fair in general given the limitations of having an hour of air time to sum up a full day. "They can only show what you've said and what you've done," she said. "I was shown the way I acted. It was exactly how it was, and I was happy with it."

Somerville highlighted, though, that some scenes get edited to add more spice and emphasize storylines. "They will make big things out of people saying things to add humor," he explained. But even though some editing slightly upset him, he said overall that "they definitely put me across in the best light." Concluded Somerville: "It is going to affect you, the storyline you get, and whether they edit you as a hero or a villain. ... I was a hero so I couldn’t really complain."

Their appearances were part of a parliamentary probe into reality TV and talk shows and the support TV companies provide participants. The inquiry was launched after the death of a former guest on The Jeremy Kyle Show, which ITV canceled in May. The guest had taken a lie detector test, which was a popular recurring feature on the talk show.

Top executives from ITV, including CEO Carolyn McCall, previously answered questions about Love Island and the use of lie detector tests as part of the British parliamentary committee probe.

McCall in March also discussed the death by suicide of Mike Thalassitis, who was on the 2017 season of Love Island. "It was devastating to them. The Love Island team [members] work grueling hours and interact with the people on the show and sometimes develop friendships," she said. "It was tragic." McCall also highlighted back then that "I don't think that anybody has made a direct link between what happened to Mike and Love Island, and I think that is very important. ... He was very happy on Love Island, and all his mates have actually said that."

She also highlighted at the time that "we did have a duty of care. We had clear processes and procedures." McCall added that the "pace" and "sometimes nastiness" of social media today requires constant updates to such processes, and that the network would put increased effort into offering reality show participants help, especially when they get trolled. "We will do much more in a much more structured way," she vowed.

In the U.S., CBS recently said it would return to Love Island in the summer of 2020, renewing the unscripted series for a second season. The pickup came despite soft linear ratings as the series has attracted a younger and more female audience than is typical for CBS.