Wanderers, I love fandom. I love that it exists and I love being part of it. That’s why I write for this ‘zine. But over the last week I’ve been hearing some stories that genuinely worry me, and they can’t go unaddressed. Ladies and Gentlemen, I hate to do it, but it seems like it’s time to have a look at the darker side of fandom.
Now, before I start talking about this, I want to point out that 99.9% of fans are the nicest, most engaged, enthusiastic, responsible, considerate and respectful people you could possibly meet. Being a fan of something by no means makes you a bad person, despite the occasional perception by those who don’t understand what it means to us. But today I need to talk about the tiny percentage of fans who get so caught up in their fandom that they forget the basic rules of human decency.
There have been some incidents, lately – big, deeply disturbing incidents that none of us saw coming. The biggest one involved identity fraud, and frankly I’m not going to go into detail because I don’t think the people involved deserve the attention. I think everyone in that fandom is aware of the circumstances. In other fandoms, so-called ‘fans’ of shows have been unleashing ferocious waves of hate (often in the form of a Twitterstorm) at the shows’ creators or casts. The sad thing about that second one is that a lot of you will probably say “So? That happens all the time.” Yes. Yes, it does. But why?
When I got into fandom, I thought it would be easy to follow along with the moral code involved. After all, if something is unacceptable in real life, it’s unacceptable online with your fellow fans, or in communication with your favourite stars, right? Well… yeah. Basically that’s still true. It’s just that some of us seem to have forgotten that.
If, in order to get to spend time with a guy at work, or in another class at school, you pretended to be someone he hung out with sometimes and introduced yourself, tricking him into meeting with you, everyone you knew would be horrified. He certainly wouldn’t think much of you. Why would a guy who’s been on TV be any different? What would make anyone think that’s OK?
If a girl at the park tried to join in on one of your slightly-risqué in-jokes, wouldn’t you just pull a face and back away? If someone put something you found really irritating on a billboard near your home, you wouldn’t look at it – you’d take a different route to the shops, maybe, or just ignore it. You wouldn’t take a picture, pin it to your fridge, and then call the company who’d put the advert up every time you went to get a glass of milk in order to complain about it. If you don’t like something, don’t watch it; if someone’s attempt at humour falls flat, don’t laugh. But I find it really hard to understand the people who have so much anger inside them that when they don’t like something, they spew venom at its creator until, in many cases, the person involved is forced to retreat, or give up something they love.
This isn’t a new problem – I saw a young, famous couple bullied off of Twitter by jealous fans a few years ago – but it’s important that we keep talking about it, because there are some new fans out there who might otherwise think this is normal. Heck, even we, fandom as a whole, might forget it’s not normal, because we’re getting used to it. Sending hate to people we don’t even know is not normal, and worse than that – because let’s face it, normal is overrated – it’s not acceptable.
Nor, while I’m on the subject, is attempting to trick people into situations that might make them uncomfortable – well, let’s be honest. You should never, EVER pretend to be someone else online (parody or roleplay accounts are another thing, and should be clearly labelled). Come up with a fake name for yourself, by all means – it can be wise, especially if you’re young. But when you start pretending to be a specific other person that someone else knows, and using that to try to get close to a stranger… Well, imagine if that happened to you.
We make a lot of jokes, we users of the internet, about how we’ve been online for x number of years and we’ve not been groomed by a pervert yet. But that is the comparable situation here. We’re talking about luring someone to a meeting, thinking that they are going to see a friend of a friend, and completely taking advantage of their good nature. If that happened to you… well, it’s to prevent that kind of scenario that a lot of us started using pseudonyms or hiding behind sole use of our usernames in the first place.
We’ve got a lot of tips for fans here on Fandom Wanderers, but there’s one basic overarching rule behind them. The people you are fans of are people too, and should be treated as such. That means not screaming in people’s faces or alerting the universe to someone’s location, but it also means the things we thought were pretty obvious, like not impersonating people’s friends to get to them or going out of your way to bully them online.
Now Wanderers, listen. We on the team are sure you’re the very best kinds of fans. This isn’t a lecture aimed at you. We know that just because we write about something being bad, that doesn’t mean it’s going to stop happening. But our hope – my hope for this article – is that those people who might be unsure where the line is between acceptable and unacceptable (and let’s face it, when you’re new, the sheer amount of photos we all share of people is enough to blur the lines for a moment) will be reminded that there are limits, and that there are things fandom as a whole won’t tolerate. Things that give us all a bad name.
So let’s move on from the events of the last couple of weeks, now. Let’s stop focusing on the bad things and look at the good (and there is so much good). But first, I’ll be taking a moment to reflect on where my personal limits lie, on what I feel is acceptable, and why I feel it is. I’ll be chatting to others in my fandoms about what’s OK and what’s not. And I’ll be making a conscious effort to represent my fandoms well. I think that’s something we could all do with right now; some time to determine our course and decide that bad fan behaviour is never acceptable, that we will never let the worst of it pass unchallenged. And then we should all reblog a ton of cat gifs and get on with our normal, fannish lives.
Eleanor Musgrove (is not angry… just disappointed)