When Caroline Flack died by suicide* earlier this year, the toxic side of social media was targeted for a share of the blame. After personal difficulties of her became known, "troll" accounts – people or bots that exist purely to send negativity towards people online – were merciless. 

The irony, of course, was that many of those same trolls then came out mourning her death. 

This is an extreme version of toxic social media, but no less valid when it comes to debating how much of the online negativity should be tolerated and to some degree expected. 

DJ and presenter Marty Guilfoyle had his own brush with toxic social media recently when Twitter users began implying he had acted inappropriately towards women after he joined the GOAT House, a TikTok content creator house in Dublin. 

"Last week I was subject to a lot of tweets implying I was a predator, that I was a pedophile all because I was in a house with nine other people, one was 18, two were 19", he told Claire Byrne on the Today with Claire Byrne show. "People kind of assumed that it was for sexual reasons, which I thought was absolutely crazy, that that was the assumption made."

As a public figure Guilfoyle accepts a certain level of pushback, he says. "At the end of the day if you're going to put yourself out there I think you need to be open to opinions, and I think people are entitled to their opinion. I just think that it can get to a certain level where it's beyond an opinion and it can actually hurt."

However, in this instance, a line was crossed.

"It was me in work, 24/7. I had my own floor, my own room. Okay, so people were sharing rooms and that was up to them but, for me, I was going in there to possibly enhance my music career. That was the goal. 

"I thought it was a bit unfair on the girls, as well. To assume that they were in there and they weren't strong enough to move out of their own homes and live themselves, like most people do when they're 19."

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Guilfoyle eventually left the content creator house.

This kind of online treatment is something journalist Louise Bruton knows well, having been subjected to it in her own way recently. Also speaking on the show, she recalled when she was reviewing the latest Dua Lipa album in March and made the "grave error" of mentioning Lady Gaga.

"For 48 hours straight I was targeted by all of Lady Gaga's fans, telling me to kill myself, threatening to kill me and sending quite ableist comments towards me because I use a wheelchair", she said. 

"Initially I was quite shocked and then it got to be annoying. There's a certain template that trolls use, a similar language. It's mimicry.

"When people were asking me why I didn't reply to any of them, I got down to thinking, 'what's their home situation like if they're teenagers and they have to resort to hanging out online?' It might mean they lead quite lonely lives. It isn't necessarily people out to be mean, it's people possibly coping with something else going on."

She said things have gotten worse online in recent months, if only because of the global pandemic. "I think lately, definitely online, there is a lot more activity in this way because people are bored, people are angry, people's circumstances have changed so much."

If her experiences have taught her anything, she said, it's to separate her work like from her personal life online. Now, she'll mostly use Twitter now to discuss her takes on things, but won't use it to detail her life anymore.

"I'm not going to give personal elements of myself on my Twitter account, which is public, anymore. That's my work vehicle and I've made my Instagram account private. Why would I want strangers knowing things about my personal life when they could find out where I live, who my friends are, the areas I hang around in most. 

"The way social media is now, we're in total experimental stages of it where we don't really know what it is other people are using it for, but if you keep giving so much of yourself there is maybe a level of becoming addicted to this constant narrative.

"If you keep giving to this commentary, you're maybe not letting your thoughts develop fully. There's this performative element to it which I find to be quite damaging."

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For Marty, however, browsing social media and sharing parts of his personal life online is part of the fun and something he enjoys. "At the end of the day, you can choose who you follow and if someone isn't contributing positivity to your life and they're on your timeline, you can just unfollow them."

Still, psychotherapist Stella O'Malley told the panel that she has advised many people to stave off social media, especially children and teenagers. 

"When you look at Caroline Flack, some people actually aren't [able for the negativity] and they need to be self-aware enough to know, 'I'm too soft. I'm too tender for this and I can't take it'", she said. 

We're still in the figure-it-out stage of social media, she said. "We might look back on those days and it's like looking at nine-year-olds smoking in the 50s, and going 'Look at the state of what people were doing online!' We might put in a lot of regulations around it and it might be more grown up in the future, but right now it isn't." 

Listen back to the full conversation on RTÉ Radio 1 here

* If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact: The Samaritans (phone 116123), or Pieta House (1800247247).