On Christmas Day, Lewis Hamilton shared a video of him ribbing his nephew for wearing a princess dress. Many people took offense and called him out on it, saying it wasn’t appropriate to mock a boy for wearing a dress. He apologised on Twitter, saying he didn’t mean to offend and that everyone should be free to express themselves as they please. He removed the video. That should have been the end of it. It wasn’t.
Yesterday, people started to notice that Hamilton’s Instagram was losing photos by the refresh. Not just select ones; everything. At least five years worth of memories and experiences being deleted with no warning and with no explanation as of writing this. His Twitter has also suffered with many recent tweets being removed, including the apology he made on Boxing Day.
Many people have assumed that it is his PR team, stepping in to take control of his social media to prevent something like this happening again. If that is the case, I consider it a travesty.
There’s two main things that concern me about this course of action (if this is indeed what has happened):
The first is that it is a massive overreaction that is only going to have a negative effect. I honestly can’t comprehend what they hope to achieve by going this route. His fans are understandably devastated to see all of the photos gone. Many included photos of him with fans at races and held great memories for many people. Instagram photos are not easily downloaded so many would have relied on them being available forever. Many of them feel like they’ve been robbed of something and understandably so. The problem is, when something like this happens, people’s first instinct is to lay blame at someone’s feet. That ‘someone’ is unfortunately the group of people who took offense with the original video.
Were people right to call him out on the video? In my opinion, yes. And the fact that he apologised and made the follow-up comments that he did made me think that he acknowledged the lack of forethought in posting the video. But now many of his fans are attacking these people for causing this to happen, despite the fact that no one could have predicted this drastic course of action. They are being accused of trying to change who he is and make him act differently in front of his family to suit them and for being too sensitive (accusations that have been heard countless times before).
People don’t seem to realise that there’s a difference between how you behave with your family and how things can be perceived by others. Yes, it was meant in jest and I do believe he meant no harm with his words. But those who have upwards of 5 million followers need to realise that there are people out there who can be influenced by comments made by celebrities. No one is trying to change how he interacts with his family, they’re just trying to say that maybe it doesn’t need to be shared with millions of people.
I haven’t seen backlash for anything else he’s posted in the years he’s been on Instagram and so it makes no sense to me why the entire backlog has been removed. It feels like an overreaction of the highest order and I can’t understand why no one would think it would cause more distress than the initial video.
My second issue is the concept of “characters”. We as fans are often found complaining about the lack of characters in Formula 1. I, personally, believe that there are plenty of characters, they are just not given the proper opportunities to demonstrate it. Social media is really one of the only facets we have to connect to the drivers as they really are. I find Hamilton to be quite PR on a race weekend, often saying the same things in the media pens and on podiums. It feels a bit flat and rehearsed. But his social media has always been quite open and welcoming, showing pictures of his dogs and his family, of holidays and other exploits. He interacts with fans via these mediums and it makes him that much more accessible. Which is what the fans want.
So why exactly are they being stripped of that?
One thing about characters is that they’re genuine. They’re human. And they make mistakes. And we should allow them to make mistakes, especially when they own up to it and correct it. Anyone and everyone is going to say or do something they probably shouldn’t at some point in their lives. Most of us are likely to only have a small audience to our screw ups; Hamilton didn’t have that luxury. His apology spoke to his character but this result reeks of pettiness. ‘If whatever he posts is going to offend someone then we won’t let him post at all. Is that what you want?’ That’s the message I’m getting from this. And I don’t think it’s what anyone wants.
I assume it is too late to bring back the countless photos and tweets that have been removed. But I hope that whoever is responsible for this will reconsider the path it appears to be heading. Let drivers control their own content, let them make mistakes and make amends. I don’t want to be fed a flawless, bland perception of a driver and I’m sure the drivers don’t want to lose the connection with their fan base. Please don’t sacrifice personality for PR just out of fear of backlash.