When the Love Island finale aired on Monday night, it felt like the end of an era. It was two months of bliss, an escape from real life, and for many viewers it will be dearly missed. But not necessarily because of the villa-shaped hole it left in four million evening schedules, but in how it transformed the way we treated each other online.
For one hour almost every night, for two whole months, an incredibly varied mix of people got together online to make jokes, remark on relationships, and talk about love. There were conversations about sex, self-worth, standing your ground, and good dates. We talked about when to go back to a relationship and when it’s not worth giving second chances. And for one hour almost every night, the toxicity that usually envelopes Twitter dissipated, and made way for an actual community of people open to discussion.
Logging onto Twitter, even at the best of times, is an anxiety-inducing process. The site’s user numbers are plummeting, more people are using Instagram Stories than Twitter itself, and it’s become near impossible to avoid vicious arguments appearing the second you sign in. Especially over the last few months, and really, over the last few years, the site has gone whole hog in descending into a cesspit of thousand-thread arguments and abuse on tap. With this in mind, Love Island had an especially magical effect on how we talked on Twitter.
There’s been widespread criticism of this season of Love Island for how benign it’s been compared to past ones. However, the dull nature of this year’s season is what made it perfect for enticing a kinder online discourse, because of that utter lack of drama. It made itself more accessible to viewers who perhaps didn’t have the time or energy to keep track of betrayals and “grafts” (at least compared to its reality show counterparts.) And instead of shouting matches, infidelities, and spilled drinks, we got the old-married-couple relationship between Dani and Jack, Josh and Kaz falling in love, and Megan ultimately turning from sinner into saint.
There was little time for internet discussions to descend to toxic arguments because there wasn’t nearly as much material to actually get worked up about.
the more stressed i am the more love island becomes a blissful void in my day. it is the sweet relief of a cold swim in boiling heat. i bathe my brain in its vacuous oasis and i feel at peace. this is heaven.
— anna leszkiewicz (@annaleszkie) July 15, 2018
What Love Island really showed, though, was that live television can transform online spaces: the atmosphere can go from being a hellhole one minute to a place where people suddenly feel at home the next.
Last month in the Guardian, Iman Amrani wrote about how the World Cup and Love Island, specifically about how they helped her fall back in love with terrestrial television (this in light of the fact that nearly half of millennials don’t consume live television.) “When the world feels so fragmented and separate, it is reassuring to feel like we can get together on the sofa with the rest of the nation,” Amrani wrote. And this is what Love Island managed to do not just in real life, but online. It turned an internet forum into your sofa, with your friends all around drinking wine and eating pizza, talking about something deeply, innately human: love. But instead of just friends, it was anyone who was willing to join in and participate. And for once, on Twitter, we were happy for people to jump on board.
This type of environment (a community among strangers or, at least, not friends) is rare enough in real life. It is the feeling of community you get from walking out of a gig among the crowd you just watched it with. It’s the collective excitement in the pub after your team has won a match. This sense of community was apparent in the tweets following the finale on Monday. “The actual best part of Love Island are the twitter conversations” one user wrote. “The best thing about #loveisland was twitter tbh… You made my evenings entertaining for the past 2 months and I thank you for that” wrote another, “I’ll miss y’all tweets.” And overall, there was an outpouring of love for the other people with whom the experience had been shared over 8 weeks time. As one user aptly put it, “It has been such a pleasure connecting with people on Twitter over #LoveIsland… Thank you for making me smile, chortle, giggle & downright guffaw. For making me question things & for teaching me others.”
Live television has the power to transpose this feeling onto an online community – one that feels less like how the internet often feels (depressing, exhausting) and more like a place where you’re not alone and a place for love and good. Events like the World Cup, as Amrani pointed out, Love Island, and even Eurovision, give us a chance to all experience something together without having to be physically in the same place. Whereas the daily grind of the internet can seem relentless, live television events (like even, yes, the Royal Wedding) can force that grind to be broken up; creating space for something new and something unusual to grab our attention. Unlike live-tweeting through regular events, like the X Factor or PMQs, these one-off shows act as a bucket of icewater that gives us a shock and a jolt of energy that is different enough to feel like a break. And when those events are exciting, unique, or even just plain fun, it makes way for positive conversations online that are divorced from the perpetual bitterness that often underpins online discourse.
Of course, though, like any space online or not, there will inevitably be people there to ruin it. It’s the racists infiltrating Love Island Twitter, the assholes fat-shaming during Eurovision, and the arrogance of those who deem themselves above any reality television experience, and want to make sure the world knows about it. However, with Love Island we got close.
There’s obviously plenty to (rightfully) criticise about Love Island. As was noted in this Time piece on the show, it lacks diversity in race, body type, and background, is painfully heteronormative, and has an often slut-shamey attitude towards sex. But there’s not denying the way it dramatically changed Twitter’s landscape. Despite it’s often boring episodes, and despite the many problems with the islanders’ demographics, Love Island let us take over Twitter an hour a day to talk about love. And when the other 23 felt like an endless pit of despair, it was a welcome reprieve. Live television can give us a place to have more fun online, and perhaps, in the future, we’ll all try more to participate.