If journalist and novelist Yomi Adegoke had to diagnose the internet with an illness, she wouldn’t be able to give it a name.
“Is there a medical term with the word toxicity in it?” she says, laughing. “I can’t diagnose the internet with an illness, because in my mind, it’s social media that has an illness.
“I say this as someone who loves social media and wouldn’t have this career without it. It brings so much value: I’ve met some incredible people online, made friends and have had some amazing experiences too. But in its current iteration, it’s not sustainable.
“Mob mentality is a real thing. If the internet gods ordained that you are the main character of Twitter today, there’s only so much you can do to mitigate it.”
The 31-year-old, from Croydon, south London, has a love-hate relationship with social media, which is why she changed the way she used it a couple of years ago.
“I [now] use every platform like it’s LinkedIn,” she admits. “I don’t tweet my opinions as much as I would – if you want to read my opinions, you can read them in an article. I’m a lot more guarded. The more you give to social media, the more people expect.”
Instead, Adegoke has channelled her efforts into her debut novel, The List. It’s a clever exploration of the dark side of social media and its influence on even our closest personal relationships.
The book, which is being co-developed by HBO Max, the BBC and A24 onto the screen, follows a high-profile journalist called Ola Olajide, who is set to marry her fiancé Michael in a month’s time. They are the ‘couple goals’ of their social network and seem to have it all. Until, one morning when they both wake up and see a crowdsourced list of sexual abusers online – with Michael’s name on it.
Adegoke was inspired by the trend of anonymous lists being published online ‘calling out’ certain people – in different industries and communities – for alleged wrongdoing of varying degrees.
“Looking at it as a feminist, it was a good thing, speaking truth to power and giving women a voice – especially when systems, whether it be HR, the police or the legal system, routinely fail women when it comes to the reporting of abuse,” she says.
“But on the other hand, as a journalist, you know that there are rules and regulations [and] hopefully rigorous fact-checking that has to be put in motion before making an allegation. It was causing a bit of internal tension, so I wanted to write a long read on it and get different perspectives, but this was 2017, so it was too fresh to write, as everything was unfolding.”
Adegoke thought about writing it as a play (“I have no play writing experience”) but gave up after fighting her way through the first scene. “It wasn’t giving,” she says – and so it became her first novel, following 2018’s non-fiction book Slay In Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible, co-authored with Elizabeth Uviebinené.
“I wanted the book to touch on #MeToo and cancel culture, but more importantly, it’s a cautionary tale about the internet, that really typifies its reckless power, and the fact that any movement — even with the greatest intentions — can be weaponised.
“It’s difficult to control or say who gets to participate in a movement like [#MeToo], especially where there is anonymity. I don’t think we really understand the ramifications of it.”
For Adegoke, things online aren’t always cut and dry – particularly when it comes to online naming and shaming. “Some people are actually innocent and have found themselves on these lists by mistake, then you have others who are guilty, but whose story isn’t black or white, but grey.”