on twitter + fan culture
a discussion of the ways in which twitter is bad for healthy fan culture and some light reminiscing on why tumblr was a superior platform.
I am, by all measures, not twitter’s biggest critic. I have more positive than negative interactions on the site and have made great friends through it. Like with most social media, I firmly believe most people get the experience they set out to have and a lot can be done to counteract the negatives of social media. Having a bad time online is, frequently, something you can change if you want to change it. Creating your own space online that serves you well is something a lot of people could stand to learn more about.
But this is not a discussion of how twitter is bad for people— it’s a discussion of how it’s bad for fan culture. This is split in two halves that work on the same principle: twitter is a direct line to people where posting for a reaction is the entire point.
The first half is about why fandom— specifically when applied to bands— is poorly served on twitter. The second is about stan culture and why I think the more detrimental aspects of stan culture thrive on twitter.
In case you can’t tell from literally every piece of content I’ve ever produced, I spent my teen years using tumblr under a blog named after a Wonder Years song. Not even a really good one either. My most popular tumblr post was a heavily vsco fade filtered photo of a Neck Deep shirt. it is captioned “front of my neck deep shirt” which is on its own so funny to me. It was gratuitously tagged something like this “#neck deep #pop punk #merch #defend pop punk” which is, if I do say so myself, equal parts delightful and embarrassing.
Making fun of tumblr is, and always was, a right of passage of using it but beyond just making fun of the maybe embarrassing things we might have posted, it’s a site that wasn’t very well run (see: any recent news about it) and didn’t work very well (ever try to play a song on a tumblr audio post?). It deserves criticism and if you can’t make fun of your younger self you suck but tumblr was an undeniably a huge part of the way I discovered music as a teenager and cultivated a sense of community in an online era of music.
My thoughts on tumblr as it relates to music from a fan perspective end up threefold. the first being tumblr as a discovery tool of a specific microcosm of music, the second is tumblr as a community tool, and the third is tumblr as a blogging platform and the way that differs from platforms, such as twitter, today as it relates to both music and personal social media.
It was between 2011 and maybe 2015 when I was using tumblr heavily especially using it as a tool to discover and discuss music. I found La Dispute and Balance & Composure, Seahaven and Foxing, Major League and Transit, Joyce Manor and World is… the list goes on. Pop punk and emo tumblr was a very real place. It was hugely important to the way I not only found music but also associated music together. I didn’t necessarily associate bands by what it actually sounded like, I more so associated bands together based on if blogs I followed would talk about them. It was curation through images and text posts and ask box messages. It also lead to knowing lyrics to songs i’d never heard- hell, i know lines in songs I’ve still never heard. Things like “don’t say goodbye say you’re not sure” or “bullshit you fucking miss me” were everywhere. The easier to quote the better, even if that quote was way out of context (“can i still get into heaven if i kill myself”, anyone?).
To this day, having discovered music in that way informs the way I am prone to listening to new music now. I prefer listening to people’s personal playlists or the songs people post screenshots of in their instagram stories because it’s similar. it’s personal curation. Despite my writing this now, I am not overly influenced by music writing. I’m certainly not influenced much by tweets by blogs that just say “yo listen to this ffo: good music, sick riffs”. I like when music curation feels personal and communal. It’s important to have fan community that is native to build a music scene. Tumblr was a tool for just that the way punk zines were in the past.
Which brings me to my next point: tumblr as a catalyst for fan community. Due to the nature of the site, creating fan communities is easy. It is sort of the whole thing tumblr was made for. It’s an imperfect site but having a place to discuss the things you love is important. Tumblr gave me that. Tumblr gave me a space to be creative and be excited about music. It also gave me a space to talk about me in a more longform way and talk to people online about music but also about anything— it’s the reason I write about music the way I do in this newsletter. Tumblr also gave me an incredibly influential romantic relationship with a person who posted his film photos of Tigers Jaw on the site to much celebration when he was a teenager. Tumblr gave me incredibly positive internet interactions with lovely people I now follow on twitter and instagram and continue to have positive, lovely interactions with. That, to me, is a success in fan community and why it is so important that it can exist. Music and art can create beautiful interpersonal relationships and I’m grateful to have had that shared experience free of undue, direct influence from industry professionals- even self professed diy ones.
This, i guess, is a decent lead into the other thing i want to talk about: fan community as I see it now. Internet fan community is not inherently worse than traditional fan community a la the 80s and 90s but I don’t believe all internet fan community is created equally. The platform with which the community is built introduces its own problems and advantages.
I believe tumblr was a great platform for this for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that it encouraged things like fan art or photos to be shared and discussed. it was creative and specific. When I say tumblr edits, you likely know what i mean. the culture of the site, not the culture of the thing you’re a fan of, encouraged the fan community to exist. Being a fan of something should never be embarrassing, but that’s easier to do when you’re speaking (or posting) primarily to other people who are fans rather than the bands or labels or journalists. That lack of embarrassment fosters positive feelings and more passionate fans.
But it was also more than that because the format of the site matters to creating a community too. You got to know people through following them. You saw into their personal lives. You saw friends being made. Long form posting and discussion between people is what made it more than just fan accounts and why I consider it a catalyst for community. Getting to get a sense for people’s personalities is vital.
I believe parts of these ideas exist today but the sites that are very popular are not as good for community building because they lack the scope, besides reddit which I think could be almost as good if not for ease of use and culture of the site. The youth use instagram and the fan accounts I see on there are, by nature, photo based. Lots of edited photos of the subject of the account and edits of lyrics. Similar to most fan accounts you’d find anywhere including tumblr but I think the problem with instagram is that it can be hard to feel like the person running the account is a person as a result of the photo stream being the only format for posting other than stories (more photos and videos, more of the same). You’ll see users subverting the traditional photo-caption format by posting a photo that is on theme with a caption solely about their personal life. I love that. I think it’s funny and also I totally get why they do it. By doing that, they end up promoting their followers into knowing more about them as people. I also like to think of it as using your fan account as a finsta.
I respect the instagram fan account community, but I still believe it lacks the scope of a site like tumblr due to the inability to post anything but photos. There’s a lot of pressure to stay “on theme” and not make it intertwined with you as a person. It’s also generally surrounding one band or a very specific few artists.
A big problem I see concerning internet fan communities is based on twitter and concerns positive online fan communities not being able to exist where popular accounts are run by industry professionals or writers. Independent record labels and blogs have always cultivated community and are valuable for tastemaking. Property of zack was my shit in high school and labels like run for cover or topshelf were always huge in creating an artist community that bled into the way communities associated bands. That is good and valuable. My problem with twitter as a place for fan community to be built is that those things are too close. Calling back to discussing it being embarrassing to be fan accounts or be excited, twitter is so close to the bands and professionals that it can feel embarrassing to talk about music with excitement when you know the people you’re talking about are so close. Another important side of twitter communities around, specifically, the current trendy diy/indie punk is the way writers especially present themselves as fans not as professionals. No matter how sincere, to present a journalistic community as the fan community cheapens the value of both. People with a lot of followers who write for a blog present themselves as fans there is competition (i.e. follower count) and pressure to view your value as a fan as heightened if you decide to work within indie music in some capacity. You also can’t be made fun of for talking about bands if you are working within music, too. It’s cool to talk about stuff if you’re expressly giving them more exposure through some large platform! but those people make fun of things like fan accounts or fan edits too, which are important for the current state of internet fan communities. With that, through writers being a central aspect of twitter’s visible community around diy right now, the bands that get exposure are chosen with more specific intent rather than natively by fans.
The real problem here, though, is when fan community becomes so heavily entwined with journalists and there is such huge influence from one blog that presents itself as being a community with other blogs and specific labels, that cheapens native fan community. You are influenced by social media to want to discuss what will get good reactions from a certain community of people.
Now I don’t think these things are inherently bad. In fact, I believe it is totally okay for that to exist. It has to. industry has a place in the ecosystem around music, obviously. But it’s the conflation with fan community that is the problem. Healthy fan communities need to exist away from the things they are fans of and the industry around those things. Either way, they need to exist natively. As I view social media now and with the turning away from using tumblr, I see the loss of positive, healthy fan community.
Being a fan is valid and important. It’s important to bands and the industry around them but it’s also important for the development of individual young people. I know teenagers will continue and build communities around things they love, but I am saddened by the dwindling existence of more long form platforms like tumblr and a shift into twitter and instagram.
I won’t touch r/emo here. You know why.
Despite that, I am heartened by teenagers always. Facebook shitposting groups are my favorite form of fandom at the moment. They are still excited and all will buy the same piece of merch the way that me and my community did (it’s just a green hoodie instead of a maroon one). I am heartened by zines by teenagers popping up.
Now I can hear you screaming "fan communities exist haven’t you ever been on stan twitter?”
To which I say… I said healthy.
On Stan Twitter
The things that make “stan twitter” detrimental are much the same as what I think make positive fan communities on twitter hard. The closeness to journalists specifically has become a real problem. The lack of accountability because of the less personal way they engage is one too.
My impulse is to defend these communities mostly. I think “stan” often gets the same unfair reputation that “fangirl” does. It’s people who are passionate about a band or artist or a youtuber or an actor. That is, in itself, a beautiful thing. Musicians and influencers are built upon a foundation of people like them. They’re who are buying the merch and buying the records and I’d say most of those people, even those with a profile picture of the subject of their fandom, are normal. Many of them are building genuinely cool fan community through what those on the outside might call stan twitter and I don’t want to conflate that very real, common experience with the toxicity of some members of those communities.
The idolization and unchecked anger that has come about through stan culture is what is a problem. Today the Pitchfork writer who gave the new Taylor Swift record an 8 (out of 10, to be clear) was bombarded by waves of abusive hate. Katie Dey making a joke about her ass being fatter than Taylor’s was bombarded by waves of abusive hate. If you’re reading this you’re probably aware of these incidents.
But this behavior goes a lot deeper than just the most famous and successful musicians in the world like Taylor and Beyonce and Twenty One Pilots.
You can see expressions of the behavior when something like Origami Angel selling out of records really quickly happens. Expressing disappointment as feeling slighted and attacking their record label or manager for being unable to fulfill demand they didn’t realize there would be when the orders were places. That, to me, is an expression of stan communities who group together to put on a faceless mask of hate and anger in hopes of making someone else feel bad. That only happens because of the idolization and dehumanizing of people online— including and especially the bands and artists people are fans of. It’s also helped along by that direct line via twitter to the people who are perceived to have slighted the fanbase.
An even more insidious result of reactionary stan culture is when artists use their fanbase who idolizes them to mobilize hate against someone they want to hurt. A great example of this came out of the mass outing of abusers at Burger Records recently.
When Lydia Night of The Regrettes posted her story of abuse perpetrated by Joey Armstrong of SWMRS she made mention of an incident in which Max Becker, also of SWMRS, pushed their fanbase into bullying her after blowing her voice out on a tour they did together. By no means is this the most important, nor disgusting, claim she made throughout that post, but it is important to recognize the power dynamic of having fans who will try to “protect” their faves at all cost. (content warning: I am linking to Lydia’s post below which includes extensive descriptions of abuse and manipulation)
This incident happened after Joey and Lydia had ended their relationship after a tour in which their band made her feel unsafe and unwelcome. What Max Becker did by cosigning the hateful tweets with likes and retweets is turn his fanbase against her even further. It was confirmation that she was the bad guy and to blame. It’s an unacceptable abuse of power and understanding of your fanbase.
These examples are not unique to twitter but when I consider why twitter is such a breeding ground for this hate and rabid style of fandom I come back to that direct line. That direct line to people that embarrassed me as a teenager any time a band I loved would acknowledge me online. It’s an embarrassment I feel now whenever I post unabashed fan stuff and people I admire see it.
It’s just the other side. People can turn comments off on instagram and youtube. Tagged posts can be turned off on instagram. You can avoid comment sections. That’s not so true on twitter. You can go on private, but, if you’re a writer who relies on twitter to spread your work to some degree, that’s a tougher ask. Beyond that, the personal point of view of twitter can be warped to create a new identity around someone you don’t know but have deified to a point they cannot do anything wrong and if anybody says anything to the contrary, even slightly, you can say whatever you want directly to them with no consequences. Twitter, as a platform, makes it easy to enact these large scale waves of hate toward journalists and former friends and anybody who they view as disrespecting not only the artist or creator they stan but also them personally.
I’m not sure what the answer here is. It’s probably, at least in part, for people with abusive stans to be more aware of the ways their fanbases harm real people online. I know through being fans of youtubers who have their own sections of stan twitter that the community does police itself to a degree but it’s helped along whenever one of those content creators speak with their bases seriously and directly to make them stop. Pop stars, in my experience, don’t do that and I expect it either comes down to ego or maybe just a disconnect with their audiences that they feel waives responsibility, but it’s become harmful in a significant way and something needs to be done.
None of us can talk to them. It’s up to the people those communities think can do no wrong.
Miranda Reinert is a zine maker based in Chicago until the end of this month in which she will be a zine maker and law student based in Philadelphia. She is looking for friends. Follow me on Twitter for more on music and other garbage @mirandareinert. Thanks for reading!
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