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#obsessed. the impact of social media on teen fandom

The most recent bout of cyber-bullying that made the news was directed at 18 year old Storm-signed model, Paige Reifler who last week allegedly let slip four little words, “Yes, I’m seeing him,” to the Daily Mirror at the French Connection #NeverMissATrick party. By “him” she meant Harry Styles. I won’t give you all the gory details, they can be found all over the Daily Everything. "Are you dating Harry or not? That's the only thing we want to know, and when we don't get answers we kill," was one tweet aimed at Paige. Brutal. But who are the kids behind the death threats?

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#onedirection

One tap of a screen and, as long as you haven't already used up your 1G of data scrolling through something that grows with every passing second (you will NEVER reach the end of #onedirection, I dare you to try), your photo or tweet is sent around the world. Whoever invented the hashtag is a genius. 

A couple of months ago, I went to a fashion party at an East London strip club and discovered just how far and wide social media can stretch. It started with a blurry five second Snapchat of Niall Horan. My friend had written across it "f**k niall, where's harry" - pretty standard, tongue-in-cheek LOLs for a girls night out. One of my other, quick off the mark friends screenshotted it and put it on Instagram the next day with the caption "Last night." She added #onedirection as an afterthought just to see if anything would happen and within seconds of pressing send, the ❤s and the hate came crashing down over her Mark Borthwick background.

We followed the whole thing over a massive hangover breakfast. Our friends got involved, their friends got involved, insults were flying left, right and centre and after about the 500th comment (double the followers said friend had on Instagram), the Directioners seemed to change their tune. A private message from @harryswife explained, "Hi, sorry for all the stupid comments :/ But our fandom is a bit *cough* crazy. So it would be really good if you could delete the pic and maybe upload again, just please don't hate on Niall because he's our Angel and we can't take this. So here's a biiiiig sorry from our fandom." On her refusal to take it down, @harryswife gave up the nice guy act, called her a "#mitläufer" (look it up, we had to) and another hashtag "#f**k[her name]" got started by all of One Direction's Insta-WAGs.

"Hang yourself and film it." That phrase was one of the Directioners' favourites, obviously a copy and paste comeback to anyone who dared to offend their “angels,” along with being told to stick cacti in places cacti should never be stuck. What must someone have done to warrant death threats like that? Been found guilty of crimes against humanity? Started a war? Witchcraft? Screenshotted a Snapchat of something someone else wrote about Niall from 1D? 

Clicking through to their own profiles, it struck me how young each of these cyber-bullies was. All those people who had told my mate she was a slut/bitch/whore, written “ugly” underneath all of her baby photos and told her to kill herself/STFU/step on Lego were obviously underage, ostensibly normal and all girls. Earlier this year, trying to get inside the heads of another cult following – the Delevingners – I asked Cara’s four most followed followers if they thought they could ever take their fandom too far and why they loved her so much. They all turned out to be aged either 15 or 16, and each one loved her for a totally valid reason, “Because she’s so different from all the other models, she’s down to earth, doesn’t let people manipulate her, and always tries her best to support her fans and give them the hope and kind words some of them need,” says Lucía Valdés/@CarasThighGap. They genuinely looked up to her as a role model, had made friends with other Delevingners all over the world and lived in a 24/7 conversation via Twitter. There’s no trouble in Caradise…

While this fandom’s mentality is different to the Directioners, the all-consuming, irrational obsessiveness is still there and that’s what a lot of people can find hard to comprehend. No longer content with a newsletter once a month or a gig/book/record signing whenever their idols are in town, social media gives fans the ability to directly interact with brands and celebrities as well as other like-minded zealots. My friend’s image got removed from her page by Instagram for “attacking an individual,” which is ironic considering @harryswife, @onecurly (“Why don’t you shove a cactus up your vagina you hairy cucumber,”) and a whole load of other One Direction maniacs are still trolling individuals across the Twittersphere with an online mob mentality.

Cara Delevingne is just one example of someone whose career has thrived off devoted fans. A friend of mine who recently signed to a major record label was told that she had to come up with a name for her followers, and just as Lady Gaga created her Little Monsters and Justin Beiber (most likely) created the Beliebers, so did she. Fan Instagram and Twitter accounts immediately popped up. They followed her and everyone she followed and whenever we went out, they knew and wished us a good night. Creepy stalker or devoted fan? It can be hard to draw the line, but celebs, or at least their PR teams, know what they’re doing. I just don’t think they envisioned the trolling that would follow.

Maybe it’s because they’re a generation younger than us, one that was brought up on social media, that it’s so hard for us to imagine anyone idolising someone so openly or handing out death threats in the form of gun, knife and dead face emojis so easily, but the internet has made it possible to say whatever you want to whoever you want without having to deal with the consequences IRL. Because unless you want them to, no one has to know who is actually sitting on the other side of the screen.