What Is Cloutlighting? The Abusive Trend That Is Taking Social Media By Storm Is Super Worrying

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What would you do for likes and shares? Steal some of your partner’s food? Trick them into thinking their pet has died? Put them in a position of harm whilst filming them in distress? Prank videos are hot online and whilst some are light hearted, an abusive sub-genre called "cloutlighting" is emerging and taking the internet by storm. So, what exactly is Cloutlighting and have you fallen prey to retweeting it?

The term Cloutlighting was first coined by Jessica Lindsay, a writer at Metro.co.uk. Cleverly she combined the word clout (to be famous or have influence) with gaslighting (systematic manipulation and abuse that leads victims to question their own beliefs, feelings, and senses) to describe a new trend of videos on social media. Bustle UK spoke to Lindsay about how she initially came up with the phrase. She explained:

"The word came about after an office chat about one particular video showing a guy who had stolen his girlfriend’s food and was laughing at her crying. I was just moaning about how screwed up it was people were gaslighting people for clout online and came up with the term to describe it.”
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The video that Lindsay references went viral on social media earlier in 2018. As the BBC reports, it shows a man eat the last bit of his girlfriend’s food, despite her asking him not to. As she sits on the bed, visibly really upset he calls her “old milk” that is “spoilt.” Whilst his actions and words are massively hurtful, the fact that it was filmed and uploaded to the internet for the entertainment of followers is so worrying.

Sadly this video isn’t in isolation. Lindsay says:

“That video sparked it but there were so many when we thought back. The dad ‘punishing’ his son in cruel ways and filming it, the pranks depicting people pretending their babies had died and laughing as their co-parent cried, and one showing a man who’d put chilli on his partner’s tampon ‘for a joke’.”

YouTuber, Brad Holmes has managed to accumulate an impressive 254,706 subscribers on his channel. When he first posted the video of him covering his partner Jenny’s tampon with chilli in 2016 it reached a massive two million people before being taken down. In a statement reported by The Independent, he explained:

“I've made the decision to remove the Hot Vagina video from the page. After lots of advice from friends not to remove the material I feel that it's the responsible thing to do. Looking at it from a different perspective I can see that posting such material real or fake wasn't right. I understand that being in the public eye via social media and other sources comes with a lot of responsibility. This video was intended as a joke and I feel that I have on this occasion overstepped the mark when it comes to a prank video. I don't want anyone else to attempt that video / prank because it's an utter stupid thing to do and I sincerely apologise if anyone was offended by the clip, I hold my hands up. I got it wrong."

Ammanda Major from the charity Relate spoke to The Sun Online and said, “placing something in the vagina that you didn't give permission for is abuse, and a woman on the receiving end of that would be in their right to question their safety within the relationship." Gaslighting is well recognised as abusive and manipulative. But what does it say if that sort of behaviour is rewarded online with likes, shares, and positive comments?

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Speaking about her own experiences to Bustle UK Lindsay says:

“It harked back to sh*tty, abusive relationships I’ve been in where my feelings were made out to be insignificant and I made to seem crazy for normal human reactions. I think a lot of people can relate to that.”

Most of us know someone who behaves differently online. Keyboard warriors are living proof of this. However, cloutlighting represents a worrying shift in what people will do online for 15 minutes of fame. The more that these videos receive likes and retweets the more pervasive the problem is going to become.