In August 2026, pop star Ashley Lark was cancelled. Over a century later, a historian analyses what happened.
@RealAshleyLark 12 August 2026 3pm
Alt text: Selfie by a small, slim blonde woman sitting on a very large pink dolphin in a merry-go-round. On a small purple walrus beside her is a tanned child with dark curly hair. Both are smiling.
Caption: Fun at the fair #MerryGoRound #FunFair #FinallySummer
Dr Musgraves stared at the Instagram printout onto his corkboard. He had spent more time looking at this vacuous image and this stupid marine-themed merry-go-round than he had spent with his children this year.
In fact, it was two days before Christmas and he hadn’t bought their presents yet but he was due to submit his manuscript to the Journal of Contemporary History on Boxing Day. He was stuck on his conclusion about why this fateful social media post had condemned a dazzling pop star’s career to dust.
At least he had a good title.
A Distant Reading of Digital Dissertations Analysing Actualized Intent of an Authoritative Figure’s Self-Expression: the Power, Prerogative, and the Politics of a Pop Star’s Instagram
He looked at the timeline he had pinned on his board from the Instagram printout, deliberately in the style of a 1990s crime show plotting out the timeline of a murder to work out the killer.
The first pin was from a tabloid, the Daily Post Online:
12 August 2026 3.05pm
Ashley Lark covers her modesty with just a skimpy t-shirt and shorts, showcasing her svelte post-baby bod in first public outing since birth of her second child
The author had managed to write a whole 350 words expanding on the image. Dr Musgraves summarised the speculations on a sticky note:
- She wasn’t wearing a bra
- Possibly covering up c-section scars
- She’s lost the pregnancy pounds
He had included some of the comments section:
she cant be breastfeeding if shes wearing a t-shirt. shocking.
wheres her baby? didnt she just give birth?
anyone else see that kid is mixd race? bet her husband is calling a lawyer XD XD XD
Children that young shouldn’t be on merry-go-rounds.
In his thesis he called the following hour the Viral Momentum Phase:
The Viral Momentum Phase is when an event gathered traction on the internet, and the more accounts and publications commented on the issue, the more likely others were to follow suit. According to Heard et al. 2133, when looking at globally viral events in the early 21st century, if something reached 40% of an online platform’s usership within 12 hours, it would usually gain enough momentum to reach 80% by the following 24 hours. The Merry-Go-Round event reached 54% of Twitter’s usership at the 12 hour mark (interestingly the figure is less than 1% for Instagram, at which point it had 14,561 likes and 6,567 comments, 87% of which were positive according to a Derrs-Gervais analysis).
He had created a word-cloud from the Twitter responses in the Viral Momentum Phase, but it had fallen from the corkboard into an open box of holiday ornaments he hadn’t unpacked yet for his children’s Christmas visit.
He reattached the sheet to his corkboard. The largest word was ‘BABY’, followed by ‘WEIGHT LOSS’, ‘RACE’, and ‘BREASTFEEDING’ in the next largest font, and then ‘CHILD ENDANGERMENT’ and various slurs for women.
The explosion of comments on the Twittersphere had prompted a new article by the Daily Post Online which used the same image but a new headline:
Where is Ashley Lark’s new baby? Concerns over child endangerment with young toddler on theme park ride whilst 4-month-old is nowhere to be seen
Dr Musgraves had theorised that perhaps this would have been the end of this saga, if a thread on Reddit had not inexplicably risen to the top of the millions of forum chatter that day:
Posted by u/BrandieSweetness 12 August 8.11pm Silver Award Take My Energy Award All-seeing Upward Award
The post was an image which had the Instagram image next to one of Ashley’s Caucasian husband, and a red circle around the tanned child’s face. Then there was a cartoon underneath of the well-used cuckold cactus meme cringing in prickly shame.
There were over 10,000 comments. The meme was screenshot and used to create more than 5,000 reaction TikToks (85% male TikTok users) all condemning Ashley. Dr Musgraves had summarised:
The Reddit meme alighted the incel (a term used in the early 21st century to describe men who hate women for denying them sex, short for INvoluntaryCElibate) communities online who launched a hate campaign that returned to Twitter and sparked the hashtag #AshleysBabyDaddy.
Meanwhile, another condemnation was brewing from an entirely different demographic (women, aged 30-55) on Facebook. Again, a post from another platform (Mumsnet) had been screenshot and was being shared:
AnotherDayAnotherDollar 12 August 8.24pm
Is anyone else really disappointed that Ashley Lark is leaving her newborn baby to go to funfairs and have a ‘hot girl summer’? I understand that not all women can breastfeed but she shouldn’t be leaving a baby that young, even if she has a nanny.
The Instagram post had not been shared with this, so false allegations from this misleading post had blossomed before the conversation returned to Twitter under the hashtag #NotGirlSummer. Dr Musgraves categorised the comments thus:
Ashley’s post inflamed mothers for numerous reasons: for not breast-feeding (never confirmed), for having a nanny (also never confirmed), for being a single mother enjoying a ‘hot girl summer’, for losing her pregnancy weight too quickly, and for placing her young child on dangerous equipment.
These two conversations combined on Twitter finally to #CancelAshleyLark and #AdoptAshleysBaby.
All the hype within the first twenty-four hours led to an excited frenzy of reaction articles, this time across the media spectrum. The essay published by The Sentinel about the symbolism of the pink dolphin (an extinct species) and Ashley’s fall from grace was Dr Musgrove’s favourite.
It hung on his wall inside the macaroni picture frame his daughter gave him for his birthday.
The day Ashley Lark got cancelled is a short story written for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2021, with the writing prompts: Political Satire / A merry-go-round / A holiday ornament. I struggle a lot with comedy and was dreading getting the Political Satire genre with NYC Midnight but I guess it had to happen eventually!