Twitter, Instagram and Facebook give television personalities a new way to connect with fans. But as a permanent record, interactions with commenters can bite back.
The most recent example of this is Adam Richman, host of Man V. Food and shows of similar ilk.
Richman lost a lot of weight. His trimmed down figure even graced the cover of Cosmo.
The foodie has proudly shared snaps of his new physique, posting an image on last week on his Instagram - which has since been taken down - that included a caption with the hashtag “thinspiration.”
To many of his followers, the pic, which shows Richman wearing a pair of pants that are way too big, may seem innocent enough. But to those savvy to social media lingo, the image - particularly the hashtag - takes on a more sinister tone.
The term “thinspiration” is often used in pro-eating disorder fringe groups, where people post photos depicting emaciated men and women encouraging drastic and dangerous methods to lose weight.
When commenters pointed out the negative connotations of the hashtag on Instagram, Richman lashed out in a series of expletive filled responses. The ranting replies, which Jezebel posted in their entirety, included multiple uses of a disparaging female term, a request for one commenter to eat a bag of poo, and a suggestion to another “grab a razor blade & draw a bath.”
The TV host, who made it big on gorging himself in various food challenges, has since apologized for the tirade. But the fallout has continued with the Travel Channel confirming the postponement of Richman’s Man Finds Food, which was set to bow on July 2.
Richman is by no means the only celebrity to engage people - for better or worse - publicly and he certainly won’t be the last.
Social media has made it easier for commenters and personalities to interact and the consequences rarely go unnoticed. And thanks to something called a screen grab the exchanges are often documented for posterity.
The incident brings up a number of questions.
Can television personalities say whatever they want and get away with it? More importantly, do they have an obligation to their fans and foes to be sensitive to social issues?
As the world found out earlier this year with Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, outspoken celebs face network wrath if their comments don't align with viewer and network principles.
Robertson was temporarily suspended from A&E's hit show for disparaging comments against gays. But the bearded Louisianan is now back on the show after the conservative Duck Dynasty contingent cried fowl.
While it's unclear if Richman's fan base will cause as big of a stir after the show's suspension, it is clear that Richman should have thought a bit more before hitting reply.
An estimated 30 million men and women are affected by eating disorders, according to The National Eating Disorders Association. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating are all serious illnesses that can lead to death. They should not be encouraged.
Richman's response - whether he knew about thinspiration's meaning or not - is a stark reminder to television personalities and networks alike that words do matter. Hosts like Richman and reality TV stars like Robertson need to think less about themselves and more about the millions of men and women who hang on their every word.