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Communities and Web 2.0

Toxic Behaviours and Interactions of Stan Twitter

ABSTRACT

Twitter is a popular platform for celebrity-fan interaction as well as fan-fan interactions. Because there are lots of fandoms on Twitter, fans from different fandoms decided to make a community for themselves called Stan twitter. Twitter has given many Stan Twitter the place where they can interact with other fans and celebrities as well as a place to have a community. However, this facilitation has encouraged Stan Twitter to develop toxic behaviours and interactions. Fans might start to develop toxic behaviours that will affect both their online and offline presence because of utilizing Twitter too much and joining the Stan Twitter community. This paper looks at the toxic interaction between fans and celebrities as well as the toxic behaviours that fans might develop from utilizing Twitter and join the Stan Twitter community. The first section looks at the best of Twitter platform has offered to Stan twitter communities however even the bad outweighs the good. The following sections discuss the toxic interaction of Stan Twitter and celebrities such as online bullying along with encouraging toxic behaviours such as believing in faux popularity, narcissism and depression to be developed. This paper argues that even though using Twitter has many benefits for fans, there are toxic behaviours and interactions that fans will develop when joining Twitter and Stan Twitter community.

TWITTER ENCOURAGE STAN TWITTER COMMUNITY TO DEVELOP TOXIC BEHAVIOURS AND TOXIC INTERACTIONS.

Twitter is a social networking platform that allows people to follow each other, interact with one another and have their own community of similar interests. With the functionality of retweeting, replying, favourites, hash tagging, and group chats, Twitter has become one of the best tools for non-face-to-face interaction. Twitter is perhaps the most popular social media platform for celebrities’ interaction. Almost everyone that is in the spotlight has a Twitter account from political figures like Donald Trump or entertainers like Kim Kardashian. Because of the appeal of celebrities using Twitter, fans used Twitter to interact with their favourite celebrities and other fans. Within Twitter, there is a community called Stan Twitter where it consists of various fandom groups that idolize celebrities (Alexander 2018). Fans have found a sense of belonging on Twitter as they feel like they belong in a community and can interact with their favourite celebrities. However, with great benefits comes great dangers. Although Twitter is a good place for fan-celebrity interactions and having a community, the affordances of Twitter facilitate toxic interactions between fans and celebrities and encourage fans to develop toxic behaviours such as online bullying, believing in faux popularity, developing narcissisms and developing depression.

Twitter is a useful platform to support and promote important issues in the world such as climate change or gender issues. Twitter has many functions that can be utilized to support these issues and one of the most popular one is hash tagging. Hash tagging is used to identify a specific topic in a conversation in social media (Hiscott, 2013). Hashtags are usually used for marketing purposes and to support an issue (Hiscott, 2013). One of the examples of a hashtag that is popular in Twitter up till now is the #MeToo. Stan twitter has utilized hashtags many times to support the entertainment industry. Although most of the hashtags they used might be related to celebrities because of their interests, they have also stated their support to important issues such as gender inequality and battling insecurities. Stan twitter of Harry Styles has promote a body loving hashtag called #heautifulharries where they share pictures of themselves without any care what size they are, how they look, and what they are wearing (Twitter, n. d). This shows that Twitter can be used as a tool to support important issues such as body loving as well as allowing fans to join a shared conversation about celebrities. However, although hashtags are used by Stan twitter to share or promote an issue, it is also a harmful tool as there are lots of toxic hashtags created by Stan twitter to degrade other communities and even celebrities. The toxic hashtags are used for online bullying and some of them even went through Twitter trends. Twitter trend refers to a hashtag-driven topic that is popular at a particular time (Doctor, 2012). Therefore, even though Stan twitter have supported important issues, they also might utilize the platform for online bullying.

Toxic interactions between Stan Twitter community and celebrities is not a rare thing as they sometimes utilize Twitter to online bully their rival fandom, other celebrities or even people inside their own fandom. Fandom wars happened when a fandom created negative hashtags to bully the other fandom or the other fandom’s celebrity (Recuero, Amaral & Moteiro, 2012, 12). These offensive hashtags even sometimes went to the Trending topic which can cause more people to join in to the online bullying. One of the fights that was happening on the 2020 Stan twitter community was between Billie Eilish Fandom and One Direction Fandom. On March 30, 2020, Billie Eilish like a shady meme of Louis Tomlinson, a member of One Direction (Prance, 2020). This created a huge fight between the fandom and the fans started to bully Billie. The One direction fandom started the hashtag #BillieEilishIsOverParty and started to bully her on her appearance. This online bullying hashtag was trending on Twitter for a few hours before the issues died down. Because it was trending on Twitter, this has led to many others who did not know about the issue to know about the issue and may join the harassment of victims (Sterner & Felmlee, 2017, p. 1).  This online bullying can cause impact on the celebrities that were being targeted. Online bullying between fans and celebrities also happened when a rival celebrity surpassed their idols’ success (Tinaliga, 2018, p. 3). An example is the case for K-Pop fandom where their fans are very competitive regarding their idols success and have no regrets in bullying other idols (Tinaliga, 2018, p. 3). The K-Pop fandom leave threatening messages or mentions in their rival idols Twitter handle and the cyber-bullying even gone too far that few of the K-Pop idols committed suicide (Svetlana_M, 2019). This shows that even though the fans are the one who start the fan wars, it usually led to the celebrities being the victim of the war. The using of direct messages and mentions to online bullies is worse than using hashtags as the fans are attacking the celebrities directly. With hashtags, there are chances that the celebrities do not see it (Alim, 2015, p. 35). Online bullying are very toxic and harmful as it might cause the people that are targeted to be depressed and attempted suicide. Sterner and Felmlee (2017, p. 1) state that online bullying can cause victims to exhibit low self-esteem, emotional distress, loneliness and other negative emotions. They added that the victims of online bullying “were more likely to attempt suicide” (Sterner & Felmlee, 2017, p. 1). This shows that the online bullying on celebrities might lead them to having self-issues or fear of using social media again after being online bullied. As celebrities tend to be the victims of fan wars, this might lead them to pull away from their own fans and not interact in the social media anymore which might lead to fans criticizing their own celebrities for lack of interaction. Celebrities’ mental health might be in verge of breaking because of this online bullying which can cause them to develop depression and suicide thoughts. Furthermore, online bullying is sometimes related to peer pressure as well where the fans that do not want to online bully a celebrity or a fandom are forced to bully them if they want to be considered as ‘true’ fans (Festl, Scharkow & Qaundt, 2013, p.447). This demonstrates that the fans that do not want to online bully others on Twitter might be pressured to bully them in order to be accepted by their fandom community. This will allow the fan with positive behavior to turn into having a negative behavior. Therefore being in a Stan twitter community might lead fans to only bully other fandoms and celebrities as well as being peer-pressured to do what the community is doing.

Using Twitter has encouraged the Stan Twitter community to develop toxic behaviours of believing in faux popularity. Faux popularity happens due to the fans focusing on follower count and assuming that they are friends with celebrities. Because Twitter focuses on followers and followings, it creates an artificial popularity notion that if a fan has a large number of followers than others, they are more popular and deserving to meet their idols. Hutto, Yardi and Gilbert (2013, p.1) state that follower counts are important because it means popularity and prestige to the Twitter user. Especially when Twitter has a notion of “If you follow me, I do not have to follow you” (Gruzd, Wellman & Takhteyev, 2011, 1294). This shows that having a high following means that you have the status symbol and creating that notion of ‘I deserve to see my idol first’ in the Stan twitter community. This could also create a delusion amongst fans that they are on a same field with their celebrity or idol, and their idol should interact with them more because of their popularity. According to Marwick and Boyd (2013, p. 140), a regular person can be considered a micro-celebrity if they have a large enough followers number. As Twitter is the platform that connect celebrity figures with their fans because of the “perception of direct access to a famous person, particularly ‘insider’ information, first-person pictures and opinionated statements” (Marwick & Boyd, 2013, p. 142), fans thinks that they have a link to their idols and celebrities. This shows that Stan twitter with a large number of followers might think that they have an extra link with their idols and celebrities because of the micro-celebrity status. Gruzd, Wellman and Takhteyev (2011, p. 1303) state that Twitter is generally regarded as a space of interaction between equals. Thus Stan Twitter might think that they deserved an idol interaction because they feel equal with their idols and are in the same level playing field with their idols. This can cause them to be disappointed when they do not get the interaction or following which might compel them to online bully their idols or celebrities. Therefore, believing in faux popularity is one of the toxic traits of the Stan twitter community.

Utilizing Twitter might lead Stan Twitter to develop narcissistic behaviour. Stan twitter can emanate an attention-seeking and narcissistic behaviour when they focus on the faux popularity and believing that they are on the same level as celebrities. Narcissistic behaviour is related to self-promoting and attention seeking on social media to attract attention and admiration from their followers (Marshall, Ferenczi, Lefringhausen & Deng, 2018, p. 3).  Preussler and Kerres (2010, p. 134) state that “people in Twitter put a great focus on their number of followers and thus, carry out activities in order to increase this number.” This shows that because of the obsession of follower number, Stan twitter might develop narcissistic personality where they need to have the attention to themselves. Stan twitter might copy a popular tweet that everyone would like to get more followers or create false rumours so the spotlight will always be on them (Utz, 2010, p. 315-316). This shows that being in a Stan twitter community might lead to having attention-seeking issues and narcissistic behaviour if the fan is too engrossed in followers count and seeking attention from the people they idolize. This behaviour is not only toxic for their own self-identity but also for other people mainly the community surrounds them and the celebrities. Their community might be manipulated into believing their tweets and false rumours because of these attention-seeking behaviour and might lead to celebrities being the victim. Therefore, narcissistic behaviour might be developed if fans used Twitter too much.

Depression might be developed by Stan Twitter if they use too much and to engross with Twitter and online friendship. Depression was developed by fans when they started to have an addiction for acceptance, and a realization that Stan Twitter friends are not real friends. As humans are social beings that need to interact with each other and feel that they belong somewhere, they search for a community where they can fit in (Sreenivasan & Weinberger, 2016).  Fans go to the Stan twitter community and find the sub-community that they can fit into to feel that they belong somewhere and are accepted. As acceptance is an important element in an individual’s social life, the intensity of the online world might supplement more of this addiction for acceptance (Amedia, 2015, p. 6). On one hand, it is great to have an internet community that has the similar interests as yours when your real life community is lacking. However, on the other hand, because they might be at risk for social isolation in the real life community (Amedia, 2015, p. 6). This shows that because of the addition to acceptance, fans want to get more acceptance from the Stan twitter community thus they use more of their time interacting with the Stan twitter community rather than interacting in real life communities. Interacting mostly with online communities might cause fans to have an impaired social relationship with the offline communities and lead to social isolation. Social isolation might cause the fan to feel depressed because they feel lonely on having an impaired real-life social relationship (Matthews et al., 2015, p. 340). Being in a Stan twitter community does not mean that the people inside the community are friends either, they might only be ‘twitter friends’ and not real friends (Boyd, 2006). She gives an example on how her Friendster friend stated that Boyd is not her friend but just her Friendster, meaning that they are not real friends (Boyd 2006). This shows that having friends on twitter does not mean that they are equivalent to real friendship found in real life where individuals can be dependable to. Fans who engage in “parasocial” relationships might be “crowding out real-life people” (Thompson, 2008), which will result in them losing their real-life friends. As they realize they have no real social life and cannot depend on their “parasocial” relationship for friendships might feel lonely and depressed. Therefore, depression might develop when Stan Twitter focuses too much on Twitter and the illusion of Twitter friendship.

In conclusion, Twitter assisted toxic interactions between fans and celebrities such as online bullying as well as encouraging fans to develop toxic behaviours such as believing in faux popularity, developing narcissism and developing depression. The Stan Twitter community tends to bully celebrities online because of fandom wars using hashtags, trending, direct message and mentions on Twitter. Twitter has allowed Stan Twitter to believe in faux popularity due to follower counts. Stan Twitter might develop narcissistic behaviour because they believe they are in the same tier as celebrities due to follower counts. Depression might be developed by Stan Twitter because of the realization that the community they are in are not their real friends. 

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11 replies on “Toxic Behaviours and Interactions of Stan Twitter”

It is true that Twitter was created for a good purpose, yet the fact that it can be exploited by toxic behaviors (online bullying, etc) is truly unfortunate.

Hi Priscilla!

Everything that you said here is so true and it’s also very relatable for me while reading this. This is a well argued paper. Well done! I am also a part of stan Twitter and every point that you have argued here are also the observations that I have seen and observed in Twitter for the past 10 years (yes, that’s how long I’ve used Twitter haha!).

I have so much to say about your paper but I would like to highlight two points so far:

I would like to make a note regarding the mental health of celebrities when it comes to online bullying because it happens a lot in one of the fandoms that I’m in, which is Selenators. Every time Selena Gomez goes online on Twitter (or in other social media app), she always gets attacked by other fandoms and non-fans, even though she’s only uses it to promote her music or tweet about an advocacy that she supports. It actually lead her to have her social media platforms controlled by her friends, not just Twitter, because the increase of hate messages that she received online resulted for her to have depression and anxiety (she sought treatment for this a year after she was diagnosed with Lupus).

Also, Boyd’s quote regarding internet friendships. It is true in some way. I am part of this other fandom called Tinistas (stans of Argentinian singer-actress named Tini Stoessel) and most of the fans were from Europe and Argentina (I’m the only Aussie fan so far, haha). Back when I was a newbie (in 2015), I had so many friends at the start but I’m starting to lose contact with them over time (some have left the fandom), which has proven Boyd’s quote. I was thinking it was maybe the timezone difference and language barriers (most of them are native speakers of or can speak Spanish – I can, but I rely on the translator too much) that prevented me to connect with them, which could be a potential factor.
However, contradicting to the statement, I’ve actually seen some real-life friendships that were first formed on the Twitter stan community, and it’s mostly the big accounts (accounts who have the most fan-celeb interactions) who have done it. In fact, I’ve seen photos of them meeting up during concerts.

Overall, this is a great paper. I enjoyed reading it 🙂

My paper is also about the fan culture on Twitter but it mainly focuses on how stan Twitter accounts utilise the affordances create a sense of community:
https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/09/sense-of-community-in-todays-twitter-fan-culture/

Hi Pamela,

Thank you for that! I really enjoy reading your thoughts. I do agree with the Selena Gomez ones. Sometimes when they do nothing, they still got hate and death threats as well which is quite sad. I think the bullying does comes to the success of her music surpassing other fans’ idol success. I know that Ariana fans has been hating on Selena for a while because of Selena’s success.

On other note of your Twitter friends, I do know that there are some people who make real friends in Twitter. However, I used the friends argument because of my personal experience. I, too, make some friends in Twitter even we meet up at concerts and hang out the day before the concerts. However, after that concert ends, we part ways and only communicate once in a while. I think friendship in Twitter tends to form because you have the same goal such as going to concert. Because of this goal, I started to put so much time into interacting with my Twitter friends and kind of ignoring my real-life friends. After the concert ends, I realize that my Twitter friends are there just for the concert and although we do talk once in a while, we never formed a bond as close as a real-life friends.

Thank you though!

Hi Priscilla!

This is a well argued paper. I am also part of the Twitter stan community as well (and have been active in the community since) and it was such a relatable paper to read as most of the points that you have mentioned were also the types of behaviour that I have observed on the platform.

I would like to make some comments about some of the points you have mentioned:

– Boyd’s quote regarding internet friendships: In some cases, it’s true, because of a multitude of factors that prevented people to connect and interact with each other. However, contradicting to her argument, there are cases where internet friendships that started on stan Twitter became long-time friendships.

– The deterioration of the mental health of celebrities due to online bullying: It’s definitely true. I’m part of the Selenator (Selena Gomez) stan Twitter community and every time Selena goes online to post something for the purposes of promoting her music or about an advocacy that she supports, she always received hate messages even though she was only there to post these types of tweets. I’ve always seen tweets telling haters to stop the hate and “let Selena breathe” because the level of bullying is far too much. This actually lead her to have depression and anxiety and resulted for her to have her social media apps, not just Twitter, to be controlled by her friends.

– Cancel culture and the rising fan cam culture (especially with the K-Pop groups, as you have mentioned) can facilitate toxic behaviours and interactions on Twitter as well.

Overall, a great paper. I actually enjoyed reading it 🙂

My topic is also about fan culture on Twitter as well, but it focuses on how stan accounts utilise its affordances to create a sense of community: https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/09/sense-of-community-in-todays-twitter-fan-culture/

Hi Priscilla!
I really enjoyed reading your paper. It was a well written paper that tackles an interesting topic.

I speak from personal experience when I say that Twitter is the an amazing platform when it comes to fandoms. Fans really feel that they have a connection with their idols and the sense of community that Twitter enables allows fans to feel empowered and appreciated. I agree that this is superficial and will never replace offline community and real life connections that you can make. Yet the idea of having an online friend and being part of a virtual community is still praised on Twitter.

Overall I do agree with you, Twitter is a very toxic place. I am sure that you heard of the ‘Cancel Culture’ on Twitter. Most of the time celebrities get ‘cancel’ because of an old controversial tweet that they posted. Here again like you mentioned in your paper, its the celebrities and their career which are affected even though the tweet might not reflect how they think anymore or are taken out out context. With Twitter, it almost feel like people are constantly waiting for a celebrity to mess up so that they can ‘cancel’ them (quite similar to #BillieEilishIsOverParty).

However, all the hate that is present on twitter can also be positive. The Cancel Culture movement itself is a double-edged sword. For instance, when Harvey Weinstein got ‘cancelled’ on Twitter for having a history of sexual abuse as the tweets brought awareness to the terrible sexual abuse that goes on in Hollywood. At the end of the day, whether people are doing it to raise important issues or just to openly bully celebrities, I think that they enjoy participating in such movement because it allow them be part of a community. Even though it is completely superficial. Let me know what you think.

If you are interested check out my paper. I also talk about Twitter but I focus on the feminist community. I also mention the toxic nature of twitter. I would really appreciate having your insight. https://bit.ly/2YWLfnA

Hi Marie,

Thanks for your insight! I do agree that cancel culture is sometimes a good thing especially with the Harvey Weistein thing and the most recent ones the Amber Heard false accusation on Johnny Depp. However, it is quite toxic and can be quite harmful especially in the Amber Heard v. Johnny Depp case. People in Twitter are so quick to cancel someone without definite proof and it is very quick for them to change sides which is quite terrifying.

I agree in some part where you said that people bully and cancel someone in Twitter because they feel like they want to be in a part of something. However, it does comes to a feel like it becomes peer pressure of “if you are not bullying him, it means you are supporting him and we don’t want to be friends with you”.

Thanks!

In my opinion twitter does not necessarily invite toxicity from people. Twitter simply provide a platform for people to express themselves in different ways, unfortunately some people expressed themselves in a less desirable way than others.

Hey Priscilla,
I’m glad I got to read your paper. It was well argued, and supported with strong evidence. Personally I’m not part of the stan twitter, but I’ve got friends who would relate to the K-pop fandom point you mentioned.

one thought provoking argument you put forward is the deterioration of the mental health of celebrities due to online bullying.
it could also be the other way around
Celebrities could develop unhealthy attitudes as their fans support and encourage them in all they do, even if they are wrong. the stan twitter community feel the need to defend their idols, to the point of bashing other personalities they dislike
What do you think?

Hi Priscilla!
Good job on your paper it is well argued and informed!

I personally strongly dislike Twitter because I did notice the overwhelming negativity it fosters. I am not included (anymore) in stan communities as I have noticed they are usually very toxic because of the points you have raised.
I used to be included in Tumblr emo band fan communities years ago and I often found people harassing and belittling other communities that were different from the emo communities. There used to be a lot of shaming of liking One Direction or 5 Seconds of Summer since they were viewed “too pop” and “rock-wannabe”. However, this antisocial behaviour wasn’t practiced as much as on Tumblr as it is on Twitter.

Overall, I liked your paper, however, I think it would be important to point out that sometimes even the celebrities encourage or behave antisocially on these platforms since their fans encourage them. (I think someone already pointed this out though)

Thanks!

Hi Priscilla,

This was really well argued and I love the topic you have covered! I found it really interesting with the examples you provided to see how these stan Twitter communities interact with each other and towards rivals. I have also witnessed similar behaviour on Youtube as well on the comments for say a Harry Styles music clip.

You have mentioned how toxic interactions can lead to depression and narcissistic behaviour which is alarming. It would be interesting to view the positives also, as I think stans would get a real high or motivation from commenting on celebrity rivals and thus boosting their devotion for their idol.
A great paper Priscilla!

Regards,
Nathan

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