On March 1, Taylor Swift posted a tweet criticizing a joke in an episode of Netflix’s Ginny & Georgia, a joke made at her expense. Twelve hours and half a million likes later, the general sentiment about the comment was that Swift was in the right for calling out a tired and misogynistic joke. And that may have been the end of that, except that Taylor Swift’s fans live on stan Twitter, and are part of a rising trend in using social media to protect celebrity favorites and attack anyone putting down the stars.
Every day on the internet, new micro-trends emerge, only to become old news five minutes later. In Polygon’s new series The Next Generation of Everything, we’re looking at what’s blowing up in the worlds and fandoms we follow, and what the latest shifts say about where Extremely Online life is going next.
In this case, the object of Swifties’ anger wasn’t Ginny & Georgia creator Sarah Lampert or any of the executive producers on the show. Even the writers didn’t catch that smoke from Swift’s righteously angry fandom. Instead of going after anyone with meaningful power over the future of the show, Swifties turned most of their anger toward 24-year-old Antonia Gentry, who plays Ginny. They’ve replied hundreds of times to Netflix’s Instagram and Twitter posts, as well as to Gentry’s personal accounts, telling her (and sometimes, bizarrely, the actual character) to apologize. The theme across the comments is the same: Taylor Swift has been harmed, and it’s Gentry’s fault. While Gentry is responsible, in part, for the widely panned “Oppression Olympics” clip that went viral on social media last month, she is not responsible for the words her character says across the rest of the series.
I’ve come across people spamming the comments of her social media posts, telling Gentry to “respect Taylor Swift.” People are accusing Gentry directly of misogyny and telling others not to watch Ginny & Georgia. A few have made overtly racist tweets. Even though Gentry isn’t credited as a writer, hundreds of people are demanding that she take responsibility for the single “joke” on the show that they disagree with. Fueled by Taylor Swift’s public annoyance, these fans — and trolls pretending to be fans — feel empowered to act aggressively in order to protect Swift’s reputation. This is a normal day on stan Twitter, where anything goes to protect the object of fans’ parasocial relationships.
Hey Ginny & Georgia, 2010 called and it wants its lazy, deeply sexist joke back. How about we stop degrading hard working women by defining this horse shit as FuNnY. Also, @netflix after Miss Americana this outfit doesn’t look cute on you Happy Women’s History Month I guess pic.twitter.com/2X0jEOXIWp
— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) March 1, 2021
Parasocial relationships are emotional attachments to media figures, from bloggers and journalists to YouTubers and politicians, that form over a long period of time and involve repeated engagement with the figure or their work. We tend to think of parasocial relationships in terms of how fans behave toward the celebrity they’re fixated on — in the case of Real Person Fic (RPF), boundary-crossing exchanges on social media, and even the extreme cases of fans stalking their celebrity favorite. The assumption is that stanning is an expression of hardcore love of celebrities. And while it may start from a positive place, that fandom can and does go far in the opposite direction.
In Swifties’ targeted response to Gentry, as well as their reaction to this tweet about Ashley Reese’s Jezebel essay (to say nothing of their harassment of a reviewer last July after Folkore’s release), we’re seeing the other side of the stan coin: The fixation that drives fans to cross boundaries with a celebrity they claim to love can also be aimed at detractors as weaponized vitriol.
Stan Twitter can come together to express care — you can see that in the responses to Azealia Banks’ concerning social media posts last year — but so often today we see fans choosing aggression in response to any perceived threat against their fave. Take the practice of “clearing the searches,” a stan Twitter practice to stop certain topics from trending when people search for celebrity names during a scandal. However, fans don’t just spam topics on their own. If a celebrity’s mental health is in a fragile state because of a reviewer or a producer, fans will flood the mentions of the “perpetrator” with set phrases (e.g., “Doja Cat funny,” “Han best rapper”) coupled with aggressive memes, insults, or even threats. One of the motivations behind all of this is the fear is that if the searches aren’t cleared, the celebrity will see themselves trending with negative words (e.g., “bullying,” “racist”).
Report accounts are social media accounts created by fans to report people who may be harmful to a given celebrity, both to Twitter and to the celebrity’s management via a dedicated email. These accounts can be for an entire group, for individual artists or members of a group, or for an actor in a show or film. The follower counts can range from a mere 300 followers to over 30,000. All seven members of K-pop group BTS have multiple report accounts in their orbit — and that’s to say nothing of the ones dedicated to the group as a whole. Notable report accounts have sprung up for everyone from GOT7 rapper Jackson Wang to the young women of Blackpink and Twice.
Fans who follow report accounts get detailed explanations, or even templates, of what kinds of emails to write to the idols’ management. They’re also told how to effectively mass-report tweets to get users suspended. If the issue is with a public figure (like what we saw with the racism aimed at BTS from German radio host Matthias Matuschik at the end of February), fans are aimed in the direction of their management. Fans play internet sleuth and surface with contact information for radio station managers. They tag journalists’ editors. They email other professional contacts. (And yes, this can count as a form of doxxing, as some of the information these fans find is not easily found public information.)
While some of these accounts target people who spread malicious rumors or attack a celebrity with insults, a large amount of these accounts target other fans. Despite fandom providing a community for people to connect over their interest in an artist, fans can and do turn on one another in an instant. They’re coming for people who write RPF, who draw fan art, who’ve criticized an aspect of the celeb’s craft, or who have made a joke about a celebrity that gets taken the wrong way. The “offenses” that can get an outsider marked for mass-reporting are no less forgivable if they come from an inside fan.
Stan Twitter is a form of fandom fueled by intense emotions (usually love or hate), and when there are no outsiders to aim their frustration at — a journalist, a DJ, an overt anti-fan — all of that energy has to go somewhere. Increasingly often, it’s aimed in the direction of other fans or, as we saw with Swifties coming for Antonia Gentry, another celebrity caught at the wrong place at the wrong time.