How social media is fueling celebrity family feuds

Suzy Byrne
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment

It makes us sad every time the name Crystal Workman pops up in our feed. She’s the estranged mother of Ariel Winter — and she typically has nothing good to say about her famous daughter, whom she was stripped custody of in 2012.

Ariel Winter, left, and her mother, Crystal Workman, don’t get along. (Photos: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images; Inside Edition)

Without giving this woman too much of a platform — court testimony stated that when Workman served as Winter’s manager (the Modern Family actress’s career began at age 4), she deprived her of food and sleep; slapped, hit, and pushed her; and lost custody of Winter at 14 — she gave a new interview to Inside Edition this week, attacking her famous kid’s Emmy dress, which had two very high slits (gasp!) but more fabric than many other frocks on the carpet. Unbelievably, Workman, who admitted in the interview that she is having financial problems (interviews = cha-ching), said, “I feel that Ariel is starving for attention. I feel this is a cry for help from my child … I just want to see her have respect for herself and have some class.”

Winter recently told the Hollywood Reporter that she hasn’t spoken to her mother in five years, yet this feud continues to play out publicly through TV interviews, magazine stories, and, of course, social media. The TV star commented on her mom’s latest media play via Twitter, saying, “Very sad when someone chooses a public forum to reach out to someone. Also sad when that reach out comes in the form of criticizing.”

And it’s an ongoing cycle. In June, Workman was interviewed by In Touch and provided some buzzy quotes about how her kid, who is already very successful at the age of 19 (in addition to her hit show, she recently started college at UCLA), “needs to grow up” and “dress properly.” Winter, who is constantly criticized for her revealing wardrobe, responded that time on social media as well.

“What’s sad is that you lie consistently,” Winter wrote. “Also, why is it that you only choose to talk to me through the press? I’m doing just fine. Toxic.”

We’re not going to get into every similar exchange — Workman has even gone on Dr. Phil to talk about her daughter — other than to note that it’s a continuing cycle and, from the way we see it, falls into the bullying category. We’ll also add that Winter is obviously not helping by giving interviews about her mother, who was an aspiring actress herself, sexualizing her daughter when she was as young as 7. Of course, this is Winter’s story and she should be able to share it — we are behind that 100 percent. But each time she does it is only going to increase interest in the topic. And if you criticize someone for only choosing to talk to you in the press, is social media really a better avenue?

Rosie O’Donnell’s daughter Chelsea hasn’t been living under her roof since 2015, but that hasn’t stopped Chelsea from bashing O’Donnell’s parenting skills. (Photo: Getty Images)

Similar — and equally as sad — is mom of five Rosie O’Donnell’s public spat with her estranged daughter, who has documented emotional problems. This week, Chelsea O’Donnell Alliegro gave an interview to the Daily Mail (again, cha-ching — there is financial compensation), sharing her opinions about the recent suicide of O’Donnell’s ex-wife, Michelle Rounds.

“She was always sweet and loving and thinking about other people” is the first soundbite Chelsea gave about her estranged mother’s ex-wife, followed by, “That’s not how I would describe Rosie.” The 20-year-old went on to talk about how O’Donnell’s marriage to Rounds fell apart, taking jab after jab at the famous comedian. She ended by breaking her own news: Chelsea is nine weeks pregnant with her first child. “I’ve always wanted a family,” she said, implying that O’Donnell, who adopted her when she was 2 months old because her drug-addicted mother couldn’t care for her, never gave her one.

The interview — and the timing — can only be described as brutal, and of course O’Donnell wasn’t going to let it go. Famously outspoken, especially on Twitter, she took to the social media platform to call out her daughter for profiting off of Rounds’s death. And she took it one step further by going on to air some of Chelsea’s dirty laundry — claiming that her husband, Nick Alliegro, whom Chelsea met at Dunkin’ Donuts and secretly married last year, “was arrested for beating u up.”

O’Donnell posted several tweets following Chelsea’s interview, including one saying, “Michelle’s death = money 4 Chelsea.”

In this post, Rosie asked her daughter, “Did u hate me this day? last year – at the apple store – was this b4 nick was arrested for beating u up? same same.”

Like Winter’s with her mother, the O’Donnell feud is an ongoing cycle. Earlier this year, Chelsea added more fuel on Inside Edition. O’Donnell reacted then, too, both on social media and on her own website, where she openly wrote about Chelsea’s two rehab stays in the last two years, her attempted suicide on Labor Day 2016, Nick’s arrest for domestic violence, and how doctors recently “found a hole in [Chelsea’s] frontal lobe, most like from a stroke in utero, that severely compromises her cognitive abilities and always has.”

Oliver and Kate Hudson were raised by mom Goldie Hawn and her partner, Kurt Russell, whom they call “Pa.” They have spoken out on multiple occasions about their birth father, musician Bill Hudson, not being part of their lives. (Photo: Christopher Peterson/Splash News)

Winter and O’Donnell aren’t alone. It wasn’t that long ago that Oliver Hudson, brother of Kate Hudson, dissed their birth father, Bill Hudson, via an Instagram post on Father’s Day 2015. His “Happy abandonment day… @katehudson” post led to Bill’s disowning them.

We asked Art Markman, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, to help us make sense of this frankly depressing trend.

“Family relationships are hard,” he says. “Family are deeply invested in each other’s lives. Parents typically raise their children without asking for specific payment in return. Children may take care of aging parents. This close bond not only creates this kind of sharing, it also creates a deep emotional investment. As a result, the good times with loved ones create real emotional highs and the bad times create strong negative reactions — sadness, anxiety, and anger.”

Of course, when people get angry, they are prone to lash out. “Family members may yell at each other, even if they never yell at anyone else,” adds Markman, who can also be found on Twitter. “And the things said and done in anger are often things people regret later. When those actions are taken in private, it is easy for someone to later apologize and begin to repair the relationship.”

If you and your relatives couldn’t get enough of the spat between your Aunt Mary and her daughter-in-law Lisa last Thanksgiving, you can only imagine how the interest is magnified for celebrities — especially ones being accused of being a parent or a teen letting loose a “cry for help.”

“Because celebrities have a strong following, they are able to take to social media and also to the regular media to air their grievances,” he continues. “Angry tweets or interviews draw an audience. But these social media posts and interviews also become part of the public record. It is harder to walk back a public statement than a private one. As a result, a feud made public can escalate.”

So how does the cycle get broken? It takes a big person to ignore mean comments about their character, especially when the statements become trending topics. Further, if you don’t respond, does that somehow mean you agree with what your detractor is saying?

“In order to calm this down, two things are needed,” Markman says. “First, the parties have to want to de-escalate the conflict. Oscar Wilde is quoted as saying, ‘The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.’ For many celebrities, there is an appeal to being part of the news cycle that can lead them to continue with public fights, despite the pain and harm it may cause in the long term. Second, the parties need to apologize publicly and privately for the things they have said. The private apology is to begin to mend the relationship. The public one is to provide some space for the individual to go about their lives and to do the harder work of making up.”

And making up may be hard to do — but not impossible. If Angelina Jolie and Jon Voight can do it, after he gave an interview in which he said she had “serious mental problems,” we have hope for the others.

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