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COMMENT | Is a community leader’s social media entirely separate from the organisation they represent?

For those of you involved in so-called ‘gay Twitter’, the recent ongoings of an LGBT organisation and its founder have been difficult to ignore.

LoboStudioHamburg / Pixabay

Before discussing them, I would like to make two things clear. Firstly, I am not affiliated – in any way – with All Together UK. I don’t know its founder, and I’ve never attended an ATUK event. Secondly, I am neither interested in condemning nor validating the organisation or its founder. I’m just interested in the organisational issues that have arisen.

If you don’t know what ATUK is, it is (in their words) “a community built by you, for you, to combat loneliness born from a world dominated by labels […] that so often breed isolation, unrealistic expectations and self-loathing, all strongly associated mental health problems.” In short, ATUK organises social meetups for the LGBT+ community across the UK.

Undeniably, this sounds commendable. But ATUK’s founder, Mr Ben Smith, has been accused on multiple occasions of behaviour that is at a disparity with the aims of the organisation. These generally refer to Tweets posted on Mr Smith’s personal account, which are said to have included the likes of body shaming and slandering people with reference to their personal finances. For a short while, these accusations led to the organisation being closed down.

The latest accusation came about as a result of a video posted on Mr Smith’s personal account. The video was presumably taken by Mr Smith, and captured a man’s buttocks on a holiday resort in Egypt. The nature of the clip has led many to accuse the ATUK founder of ‘fat shaming’.

The subject did not appear to know that he was being filmed.

Mr Smith responded to the criticism with the following statement.

“You may have recently seen a post … of what was meant to [be] ‘funny’ – and on reflection… overstepped the mark. Sorry if this caused offence, it was never my intention.

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“Some times in life, people make mistakes. I am human. I have dedicated countless hours to try and build a network for people to simply make friends … I hope for some they have, but for me it’s lost me confidence, friends, reputation and simply making me unhappy. I try to be a good person, but right now… I feel like ‘gay twitter’ has destroyed me for putting my head above the parapet.

“… Due to the continued daily abuse and judgement me and my partner receive I have decided to remove my personal account from Twitter/Instagram. It might just be a few but it hurts to see it… BUT, I felt I would provide you with a snippet of WHY I have taken this action.

“Before you judge me, holy than thou … Next time you screen shot Grindr, take a picture of your ‘tube crush’, practise what you preach. Do you think they want to be humiliated either?

“I wish you all well, Ben”

The statement elicited a mixed response. Some have defended Mr Smith, suggesting that the video was merely humorous (albeit inappropriate). Others contend that the incident is inexcusable for someone in a position of leadership in an organisation that claims to promote togetherness. Some have even used this as a basis to challenge the motives of Mr Smith (that is, that the intent of his endeavours is only to gain status).

Whatever you think, the interesting thing (for me, at least) is the number of issues around organisation this poses. The ones that strike me are as follows.

Should the behaviour of the leaders of such organisations be entirely separate from the organisations they represent?

And do different rules of humour apply to such leaders?

Do let me know what you think.

Joseph Mellors is a Newcastle upon Tyne based writer, thinker, and all-round geek. Follow him on Instagram @realmellors and Twitter @realmellors.


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