Saturday, June 28, 2014

When Fandom Attacks: Cyberbullying Goes Both Ways

For those of you who read this blog, you know that I almost always stick to TV talk. Nothing too deep and nothing too controversial, except maybe my stance as an anti-shipper. :-P I don't usually approach heavy topics, but today I was made aware of a popular fan artist named Euclase who hid her pictures from Tumblr and Deviant Art because she was being harrassed online. For the record, Euclase is one of the most talented artists I have ever seen online. So much so that she takes fan art to another level, creating digital art that looks so real many swear they are photographs. If you have not seen her work, you owe it to yourself to check it out. It's that good. But this isn't an article about the joys of good fan art. This is about bullying. In fact, it really isn't about Euclase at all.

When I first heard that she had left, I was curious as to why and so being a librarian I felt the need to research. What I found was the nasty trend of anonymous comments, which to be honest I do not get. If you feel passionately enough about something to join the discussion, then why hide behind anonymous. Stand up. Join the conversation. I have been in online fandom long enough to know that a lot of trolls go by Anonymous, and let me make clear that trolls are largely sociopaths trying to get their kicks by making other people miserable. I have no place for trolls and I am sorry to everyone who feels their sting. Now since Euclase removed everything on her accounts, I could not see what caused her to need to take a break. It was clear, however, that some people were questioning her authenticity, claiming that instead of actually drawing her art digitally she was in fact manipulating photos. It seems to be an accusation she was barraged with for quite some time even though she had many items posted in which she showed her process step by step. I have no doubt that many of these anonymous commenters were indeed trolls and bullies and no one deserves to have to deal with that. I too feel bad for what Euclase went through.

But here's the part no one seems to talk about which can be equally as bad. In my research I also came across people who claimed to be bullied by the same fans that poured out their rage at Euclase being driven from the internet. (UPDATE - She did post that she was just taking a break a little while ago.) From their perspective, they posted on her pages to discuss different perspectives on art or to ask questions or clarification. Again I haven't seen the pages so I have no way to know if they came off as rude or hostile. They might have. All I know is that more than one person felt like they were being attacked by other fans for what they said. Now please let me make it clear that no one can be held responsible for what their fans do or don't do. After all, you can't blame Jody Foster for John Hinckley's obsession, and yes, I know that's an extreme example. I have zero interest in adding to the pain Euclase has already suffered nor is anyone justified in harrassing her. However, I do think it is a good time to revisit the flip side of fandom again, which far too often wounds.

Let's face it, with social media in its heyday we all feel a little closer to our favorite celebs. We learn about their lives in real time which we never could have before and we show our love to them on a regular basis. The role of fan has become in many ways our second, non-paid job and we love it. As the bond between celebrity and fan gets closer, we tend to consider them part of our family and their successes become our successes, their hurts our hurts. It's a heady, passionate thing to be part of a fandom and in a lot of ways it can bring joy. Right until it brings pain, sometimes to the point of depression. When a fandom turns on you, watch out.

Sometimes fans mistakenly feel that in order to really be fans they need to rush to defend their favorite celebrity's honor. We've probably all done it if the girls in my fourth class a decade and a half ago are any example. I still remember the tears when another round of "Which one is better, Backstreet Boys or 'NSYNC?" broke out. That passion that unites us and inspires great creativity also comes with a dark side that can get out of control quickly and cause more damamge in its wake than the precipitating event could ever have done. Fandoms lash out over perceived hurts that can be frightening in its intensity and volume. With the ease of social media, we can garner huge legions of other fans to swoop down and decimate anyone who has the audacity to even look at our favorite celebrity sidewise or yikes, offer an opinion that is not the most flattering. I'll say it again. I love Jensen Ackles but Devour sucks out loud from all standpoints. And yes, that comment has caused me flack in the Supernatural fandom before. It's not the only time I've been hit hard by the SPN fandom either.

A couple of years ago, Misha Collins tweeted out a blog post written by someone who was seated next to him on an airplane. In it he talked about how Misha and I want to say Sebastian Roche (I could be wrong) received special attention from the flight attendants because they knew of Supernatural. He didn't say anyting negative about Misha or Sebastian. In fact he mentioned a couple of times what great guys they were. He was merely commenting on how society treats people differently. Almost as soon as Misha posted it, the blog got countless hits. Lots of SPN viewers, including celebrity fan S. E. Hinton, retweeted it and many spent their time mocking the man and his blog. When I tweeted that the man had said nothing negative about Misha or Sebastian and that people were being far too hard on him (bullying him to be honest), many of those people turned on me. It wasn't the first time I had experienced the negative side of fandom, but it left a bitter taste in my mouth and made me twice as wary of my so-called SPN family than I had been before it. A rabid fandom that strikes without thinking, without objectivity, without stopping to consider the consequences...a fandom that reacts solely on instinct is terrifying and there is nothing good about that.

Now I'm not saying that anything like that happened here or that it will when Euclase's accounts re-open. I am for sure not saying that we should stand back and let people bully someone off the internet. What happened to Euclase cannot be tolerated anymore. What I am saying is that before we post that nasty response or harangue someone on Tumblr, we need to step away from our devices and breathe. We need to gain perspective and think about how we respond. Think if we are only getting one side of the story or if we are reading more into someone's comments than they mean. If not, we are in danger of becoming the very bullies we are trying to combat. Intentions are not always clear on the internet. A different opinion doesn't always mean disrespect. When in doubt, take the high road and seek to understand. For sometimes in our rush to defend those we love, we steamroll right over people who never meant any harm. Mob mentality never helps and fandom has had far too many casualties already. Cyberbullying goes both ways.

About the Author - Dahne
One part teacher librarian - one part avid TV fan, Dahne is a contributing writer for SpoilerTV, where she recaps, reviews, and creates polls for Sleepy Hollow, Arrow, White Collar, Grimm, Teen Wolf, and others. She's addicted to Twitter, live tweets a multitude of shows each week, and co-hosts the Warehouse 13 "Endless Wonder", Sleepy Hollow "Headless," and Teen Wolf "Welcome to Beacon Hills" podcasts for Southgate Media Group. Currently she writes a Last Week in TV column for her blog and SpoilerTV. ~ "I speak TV."
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  1. Excellent article. People really need to stop and think, "Would I say this if I was standing face to face with this person? And how would it make me feel if someone said the same to me?" Too many people hiding behind the anonymity afforded to them by internet commenting.

  2. Thanks. I always tell my students if they couldn't say it to someone in front of the principal and/or their parents then they shouldn't say it on the internet. It's sad that many adults don't feel the same way. I think they forget that anonymous has a way of being outed as well.

  3. I don't know Euclase but I couldn't agree more about the fan issue & how this goes both ways.
    The worst is not knowing the intention behind what some celebrities post and Fandoms do not help when they speak for that celebrity, then try to impress him or her by 'defending them' (I.E harassing or belittling other fans) which can spoil another fan's perception of the star when they give fans their approval to be their bodyguards. (Not all do but I've seen some encourage it)

    Also, when these people treat other fans this way they don't take into consideration the fact they don't know them or know of their experiences anymore than the celeb they're sticking up for. When I saw a tweet from one of my favourite singers that was rather depressing, recently, I couldn't help but fear the worst. I lost someone to an apparent overdose of which I'll never know was accidental or intentional suicide. This celebrity had a similar experience with a relative, along with his own mental health issues. Many fans were concerned after the tweet, others found it amusing. Perhaps they've never had to experience living with regret & guilt, but I don't see how mocking other fans for their concern makes them as superior as they act.
    As it happens this celeb was simply dreading leaving his wife to tour, but even though I'd considered that, I wish he'd put our minds at rest when it all blew out of proportion. Not to mention some people post their true feelings, then try to alter what they meant later because they feel embarrassed.
    If an average person had posted what he did, they would usually be accused of attention-seeking.
    These fans state their idol is only human when they react that way? Yet they treat them as Gods when it suites them. They don't take into account that it's BECAUSE they're human, it is possible, even if not always likely they use their status to encourage bullying knowing they can get away with it. I point this out as I had also seen these so-called superior fans of this singer claim he was probably messing with us.. Although some that supposedly know him have admitted he plays games with people - especially women, I really hope they misjudged him. It clearly would have hurt the fan base to have used their 'contacts' to find out if he was really okay instead of making fun of others.
    It wasn't the first time bad memories have been triggered by a band that once helped me through difficult times. I respect they have to deal with so much ridicule but in all fairness, they can afford bodyguards whereas there are plenty of fans that receive as much hate and have experienced persecution, who don't have anyone protecting them. It is a shame that, when someone sets out to defend their favourite Hero against those that disagree with them, they don't put as much effort into helping others in need. Instead there are 30+ even 40+ aged fans creating witch hunts to impress these 'humans' that they don't really know.
    Famous or not, both fans & celebrities would do well to watch what they say as it could save a life.
    I do love this singer and he has done a lot of positive things by sharing his experiences, writing a book etc.. However, I'm starting to wish I'd kept him in my headphones.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. This is another example of when fandom goes too far. Sadly there are so many. I too have experienced the aftermath of a suicide and it is so hard, one of the worst deaths I've ever had to deal with. It still colors how I deal with things and my reactions today. I am sorry for your loss, no matter how long ago it might have been.

    While I imagine that mostly celebrities are just venting like everyone else on Twitter and other social media, I do sometimes also feel like some try to goad their fan base into action. That never ends up well for anyone. In fact, I stopped following one actor because it felt like he had a crusade gainst the police department and all the fans were getting upset for him but no one stopped to get the other side's story. That's the biggest issue. When fans get passionate from something on social media, they rarely check out the facts or even read the facts with impartiality. They see an attack because they want to see an attack and then they go all gusto when that might not have been the intention to begin with. As you say that can be dangerous. No bullying is okay and no one should feel justified in bullying someone else in the name of being someone's "greatest fan." It's distressing the the internet has made this even more prevalent.

    Thanks again for sharing your experience. I find the longer I am in social media, the more I wish I "kept them in my headphones" as well. Excellent line by the way.

  5. Oh thanks so much also for getting back.
    It is all too true. I'm sorry to find you've experienced the suicide issue. It is a shock that never really goes. Thank you for the understanding words. It was a long time ago and I'd blocked it out after awhile, it has taken something as unlikely as a celebrity's tweet to open up old wounds - even after learning someone else from the same town I vaguely knew has recently passed under similar circumstances. Maybe this singer didn't realise what he was saying (possibly) but his almighty defenders had to be there, playing the bodyguard by mocking other fans.

    Although many celebrities vent on twitter, Instagram etc, I can totally relate to your mention about that actor you unfollowed. It is clear what he was doing can endanger many by encouraging a vendetta against the police. The trouble being so many people - even older, seemingly intelligent fans, are too obsessed to look at the situation rationally. I believe this spells for disaster.
    Absolutely no bullying is acceptable. I find it disturbing that we aren't going forward all the while it is so easy to form cliques behind a screen against vulnerable people, let alone those much younger, using their favourite celebrity as an excuse to justify their bullying.

    I never expected my favourite stars to be perfect, but I was surprised to see friends, even relatives of this singer, calling fans names on several occasions because those fans don't like his wife. While I accept how hard it must be for relatives of the famous, it isn't a fair fight when crowds of followers suddenly gang up on the 'hater' in question in hope of gaining acceptance from their idol. I admit I don't like people throwing abuse at the guy but there is a difference between pointing out how unfair it is to expect him to perform when he is sick, than urging others to block/report an isolated teenage fan who clearly needs help rather than persecution.
    Cheers for that. I agree and I think I can safely say I have a few favourite celebs that haven't lost my respect since the coming of social media.