In an article about stan culture, a photo of a phone's screen with social media apps on it

Stan Culture Is Nothing More Than Crazed Internet Bullying

The world of social media is often full of indignity. It offers an oasis of cruelty just as much as it offers an oasis of opportunity and information-seeking. It perpetuates the rise of bullies.
February 10, 2021
29 mins read

Online, a culture of stanning has developed, a culture that entails overzealously obsessing over a given celebrity. On social media apps such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and TikTok, millions of rabid stans run amok, disseminating their views about not only the artist they stan, but about the people they hate. They relentlessly strive to put people down and denigrate the personality, culture and life surrounding the individual they detest. They attempt to intimidate them by firing malicious insults at them, inciting demonstrations of hate against them, boycotting their products, blasting them for their lack of self-awareness (saying, “Eat the rich!”) and proferring extensive evidence of their so-called misdeeds — fabricated or not — in a vicious attempt to cancel them or “stop their bag.” These unhinged individuals extend empathy and compassion only to the person they exclusively stan. For this reason, social media platforms have become a receptacle for hate and other despicable behavior, and certain popular apparatuses, such as Twitter, specifically, have become synonymous with bully culture. This is why the toxic internet stan culture needs to end.

Stans treat people as punching bags because doing so makes them feel powerful, omnipotent like God. They argue over chart positions, sales, singles, makeup brands, Instagram likes, the number of favorites and retweets their favorite celebrity gets in comparison to others, iTunes rankings, problematic behaviors, popular trends and so forth.

On the internet, nobodies can become somebodies, and wallflowers can become internet thugs. Depressed kids can become punks. As a result, stan culture becomes saturated with individuals whose only aim is to topple other people’s reputations, cripple their self-esteem and increase the legions of fans dedicated to amassing further hate against them, in addition to weaponizing their insecurities, problematic past actions and mistakes, building a solid case against them so more people will be deterred from stanning them.

Case in point, stans of Selena Gomez (also known as Selenators) are more preoccupied with bullying Demi Lovato — calling her ex-childhood best friend a whale or cow, making jokes about her drug overdose, using her failed engagement as a diss and even concocting fake posts related to Demi’s Finsta this summer; hate-watching, harassing and stalking supermodel Bella Hadid and obsessing over her and her ex, the Weeknd, linking everything The Weeknd does to Gomez while labeling Hadid an attention whore (that’s rich, the model doesn’t rely on gimmicks to sell her career unlike a certain singer); and dragging Justin Bieber and his wife Hailey Baldwin Bieber — than they are with buying her music, as if stanning a singer who can’t sing isn’t embarrassing enough.

Case in point, her new Latin single is flopping, just as her previous singles “Past Life” and “Boyfriend” flopped and struggled to climb the charts, similar to her most recent album, “Rare.” This particular album is true to its title in the sense that its commercial success was lacking in comparison to its peers — albums released in 2020 that reached the top of the Billboard 200 Chart and actually stayed there instead of free-falling like “Rare,” albums whose singles peaked at No. 1 for longer than a single week before falling off the chart, unlike Gomez’s “Lose You to Love Me.” Selenators, in particular, while large in number, never seem to match the energy they give to online-hating with the effort they devote to buying their fave’s music and boosting her miserably underperforming, piss-poor music sales and dying fanfare. Too bad their hate doesn’t match the intensity they give to streaming, the power they have to propel Gomez to the top of the charts —  Apple, Spotify and Billboard. If only they liked their fave’s selfies as much as they liked her music.

The lackluster album success and lack of chart stability Gomez experiences make sense when you consider the fact that her stans are more invested in people who have old ties to her than they are with her as an individual, which suggests a lack of interest in the real Selena Gomez — this implies her fans are somewhat removed or disinvested from her, perhaps even bored. Again, this makes sense, considering they are probably tired of her singing about her exes, particularly JB, when it’s been years since they were together. They’re probably thirsty for new content. Too bad she can’t stop singing about a dead relationship that’s over a decade old.

Perhaps she’s out of content. Again, it makes sense; she’s not much of a singer anyway, as slew after slew of failed live performances (none as terrible as the astonishedly bad 2019 AMAs, short for American Music Awards) have proved, followed by slew after slew of excuses: anxiety, bad mic, etc. Quite frankly, the girl just can’t sing. But rather than helping her improve as a singer, her stans have nothing better to do than to harass the people of her past. They dissect every social media post the aforementioned supermodel makes, hypothesizing she’s trying to get her ex back, trying to prove everything she does is related to him, claiming she’s stealing his focus away from Gomez, his other ex. They’re so invested in her life they could be her fans, but they decide to be haters instead.

When they are not tearing down Hadid or making trans jokes about Hailey Bieber, calling her a man, calling her ugly, or calling both women scary-looking and saying they “jumped” when they saw their photos, they are constantly hating on the Biebers as a joint unit, making up lies about them, referring to Hailey and Justin as the lice twins and desperately praying for their divorce. They track every story Bieber posts, link it to Gomez somehow, searching for signs of his renewed interest, searching for signs of marital trouble. They think Hailey wants to be Gomez, and not only is she jealous of her, but she’s delusional about her own relationship. She can’t keep her husband.

They attack her for being his wife because as much as they hate Bieber, they wanted him to pick Gomez, wanted him to marry her, not Hailey. How pathetic. One has to wonder if stans of Gomez haven’t learned this behavior from her. After all, she used to dedicate her time to getting on Instagram or Twitter and encouraging her fans to drag other women, particularly models — women that she felt her ex was spending too much time with or cheating with, at the time.

Her fans famously bullied Barbara Palvin in 2012 after convincing themselves that Palvin may have contributed to the Jelena breakup, sending her death threats after Gomez retweeted a picture of Palvin and Bieber at a Victoria Secret’s Fashion Show, implying he was unfaithful even though Palvin insisted she didn’t know anything about Bieber and Gomez’s most recent split (see also: https://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/selena-gomez-attacks-justin-bieber-1426764).

These stans are currently directing the full force of their malevolence toward Hadid. Because they hate her so much, they go as far as to delegitimize her struggles. Just recently, the supermodel announced she’d taken a two-week-long break from social media for the sake of her mental health (see here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CKU4jWtgQH1/?utm_source=ig_embed), and was immediately slaughtered for it by vile, abusive Gomez stans, who called her pathetic and desperate for attention for posting about it, proceeding to dismiss and invalidate the struggles of a person who has been open about her mental health struggles and her battle with major depression. In a 2019 interview with WWD (Women’s Wear Daily), when speaking about her journey and the difficulty of living with severe depression, she said: “I would cry every single morning, I would cry during my lunch breaks, I would cry before I slept . . . I was very emotionally unstable for a while.”

It’s important to note that her most recent break from social media was the outcome of weeks of being aggressively bullied by abusive stans like them, heckled by the likes of stans claiming that her famous ex hates her, stans who incessantly pushed the narrative that said ex-boyfriend is constantly taking drags and punches at the famous model in his music, pointing to song lyrics and plastic surgery gimmicks in his music videos as proof of him shaming and dissing his ex.

This is a trend the media has picked up on (see: https://www.buzzfeed.com/natashajokic1/the-weeknd-bella-hadid-music-video), and the Weeknd’s continued use of prosthetics has been used to bash her. I don’t know why stans of Gomez relish in citing this behavior as intentional. If true — if this musician is purposefully antagonizing, bullying and mocking his ex and her insecurities — he is an abuser. So not only are they supporting abusive behavior, they are actively encouraging and playing up to it, all because they want Gomez to be with him.

This is funny, considering said fave has previously accused another ex of being abusive, in an interview with NPR early last year, saying: “I do feel I was a victim to certain abuse.” Said allegations of abuse have fueled and incited stans’ fierce hate and trolling of said ex. One has to wonder, “Are they against abusive behavior or not?” If they condone it, if they truly believe The Weeknd is maliciously and purposefully terrorizing Hadid in all of his work and representations of plastic surgery, does that mean they want Gomez to be with another alleged abuser? Do they want her to potentially be abused? Why is it okay for a man to be abusive, as long as he’s being abusive to his ex?

Her fans probably can’t make the distinction between the two situations or even begin to contemplate these questions because most of them are abusers themselves, bullies, too — horrible people who derive a sick, perverted sense of joy and satisfaction from being downright nasty and poisonous to people. God-awful people. If they truly cared about victims of abuse, if mental health truly matters to them, how could they be so rhetorically violent and deplorable to other potential, alleged victims? How could they be such crazed, depraved people intent on being cruel to other people?

Apparently mental health only matters when it’s about their fave, and everyone else is open season, which is surprising when you realize that Gomez has publicly spoken about her woes more than anyone else. Her struggles are always detailed in the media — her mental health struggles warrant press releases and People Magazine cover shoots. Does that make them less valid, the fact that she talks about them so much, the way they dismiss this other woman who opened up about needing to take time away for the sake of her mental health as invalid, as pathetic, as just wanting attention? I highly doubt it.

Furthermore, since when does acknowledging the need to take care of one’s mental health make one desperate for attention in the first place? When Gomez cries on stage, mouths “Thank you, Jesus” during the 2014 AMAs (see here: Instagram), publicizes her mental health breakdowns, documents and airs out her baggage and dedicates interviews, award speeches, supposed rehab stays and Instagram captions to mental health, it’s okay, but it’s not okay for the woman they deem and assign her rival? Interesting. Why is there such a double standard? Because they perceive her as a threat, direct competition to their favorite celeb; that’s why they hate her so much. The hypocrisy is unbelievable.

Considering the fact that the artist they stan has a history of going to rehab for alleged “depression and anxiety” or other mental health issues, often for rumored substance abuse, a claim her rep has staunchly denied in a statement told to E! News in 2014 — she’s done four stints in four years (of the rehab stays we know of). Her fans have no business commenting on other people’s mental health. You’d think they’d realize that, but funnily and ironically enough, it escapes their attention. What if the shoe was on the other foot? What would they say? Let’s play Devil’s advocate. What if one were to suggest doubt about her candor and raise suspicion about the truth of her claims? Perhaps their fave isn’t as honest and transparent about her struggles and demons as they think she is.

Rumors and blinds and salacious gossip bloggers have long circulated messages that celebrities who often take frequent breaks from the public eye to go to rehab are habitual drug users who can’t seem to kick their habit. There has been very little evidence to suggest otherwise, especially when said celebrities allegedly lie about their true reason for going to rehab and invent plausible cover-ups or perhaps even use their diagnoses and diseases to cover their tracks and keep the public from finding out the truth about their secret addictions, lest the public catch them in a lie, allowing vicious online stans to call them liars and crackheads, telling them to sniff, sniff or wipe the powder under their nose, or exposing them as alcoholics, meth users, heroin addicts.

As a result, stan culture often delights in speculating about who’s a drug user and abuser. Who’s a cheater, who’s promiscuous, who’s secretly gay/closeted. Who has a beard. Who has secretly been to rehab for reasons other than what they’re publicly claiming — who’s addicted to cocaine, sex, gambling and the party lifestyle. Social media thrives on being ugly; trolls and regular people get off on spreading hate and negativity, exploiting people’s vulnerabilities, pain, drama, hidden secrets and insecurities. Trolls sit behind their computer or phone screens and engage in harassing and cruel behavior for likes and retweets, looking for something to attack, taking pointless jabs at people.

Stans’ main goal are to spread lies about people they hate while protecting and defending their favorite celebrity from others’ lies and fabrications. The only way to understand stan culture is to take the perspective of a stan. That is what I set out to accomplish in writing this article; that’s why I’m purposefully being shady and downright rude, why I’ve taken such a hostile approach in creating the tone of this article: to show how unmerciful stan culture is, how unprincipled it is, how focused people are on defrauding and defaming certain celebrities.

A vile internet stan culture poaches people of dignity. I’ve sought to expose how stans root for people’s downfall and downturn instead of success. How they have often insinuated and planted terrible rumors about certain artists — rumors that could permanently destroy their careers, reputations and public image. Throughout this article, my tone has been sardonic, mean-spirited, even, and this is an intentional choice: I’m trying to communicate how hostile, how mean, how unforgiving the nature of stan culture on social media is. How unfathomably, relentlessly antagonistic and unsupportive. How intentionally vindictive. We must abolish the toxic internet subculture that says this kind of appalling, brute, undignified behavior is acceptable. We must not condone cyberbullying.

Stan culture is ruthless. It’s about taking shots at people. Kill shots. Stan culture is a culture filled with vehemence, a culture that invites disrespect. It’s a culture of war. A stan thinks, how can I make someone feel small and terribly unimportant? Intense hatred toward someone can bleed into cancel culture, but it is not always linked to stan culture. Cancel culture is selective; if a person a stan hates commits a faux pas, there’s fake outrage and a demand to humble them, but if a stan’s favorite celebrity does something problematic, it is swept under the rug. One has to wonder, how do people decide someone is unforgivably racist but somebody else with a racist past is forgiveness-worthy?

Why is it okay for non-Black rappers such as French Montana, Fat Joe and 6ix9ine and non-Black DJs such as DJ Khaled to say the N-word? Furthermore, how come Justin Bieber gets dragged for a video of him singing “one less lonely n—–” as a teenager but Shawn Mendes (who offered a dismissive apology for racially insensitive tweets during a fan Q&A session), Camila Cabello, J-Lo (Jennifer Lopez: a woman with a long history of shamelessly stealing from black women. See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VkfYdo_ocA) and Sabrina Claudio (who went viral for her racist Twitter account dedicated to hating on Black women, and was dragged, like J.Lo, for casually using the N-word) get a pass for their own ignorant pasts and anti-blackness, and worse, their age is used to excuse them using a racist slur? Is it because Cabello apologized for her past “horrible and hurtful language” and racist Tumblr? Moreover, how come Hannah Brown (watch: https://www.instagram.com/p/CAUQnovj9KU/?utm_source=ig_embed) and Kaitlyn Bristowe of the “Bachelor”/“Bachelorette” franchise can get away with saying the N-word or being ignorant about racial justice, because they’re pretty and/or white? What makes certain people disposable, and others worse protecting, placating and assuaging guilt for?

And why can Selena Gomez get away with saying the N-word for a movie role in “Behaving Badly” (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkJa-pNy0cg or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3V8zSQeWiM)? How come Selena Gomez is forgiven for unconscionably reducing the Black Lives Matter movement to merely “choosing sides” in an ignorant tweet claiming that “hashtags don’t save lives” (in an effort to defend Taylor Swift during her 2016 feud with Kanye West, she also tweeted, “There are more important things to talk about… Why can’t people use their voice for something that f**king matters?”) but people draw the line at Gina Rodriquez rapping the N-word on Instagram Live on  Oct 15, 2019, and appropriately called her out for issuing a backhanded apology before deleting it and offering a more sympathetic Instagram text post?

How come the half-Mexican Gomez gets away with it, but the broadly-considered Latina Rodriquez doesn’t? What makes Gomez’s actions okay and the actions of others not? Why isn’t she held accountable? Is it because she’s pretty to some people? Being pretty shouldn’t protect you from criticism or call-out culture. When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. Pressing the @ button on certain hot-button topics because it’s trendy and having Black people take over your Instagram for a couple weeks (see her #MarchforOurLives posts) isn’t enough “activism” for me.

It’s performative and disingenuous, lackluster “activism” at best. It’s tokenism at the most extreme and insidious level. Moreover, it doesn’t require any real work. That kind of activism doesn’t move me, and it shouldn’t move anyone else. What’s even more despicable is the fact that whenever a celebrity gets called out for something, people bring up whatever another celebrity has done in order to shift blame and accountability and try to claim that everyone is problematic. Why must there always be a shifting and redirecting of guilt and anger and responsibility? Ignorance is ignorance, racism is racism. If you draw the line for one, you should draw the line for all.

The internet can be brutal, everyone knows this, but that doesn’t make it right. Stan culture on social media is little more than a culture of agonism; stans engage in combat. Stan culture seeks to inflict severe emotional injury, damage or distress. They do this: a) because they’re bored children or unfulfilled adults with nothing but time on their hands, b) they absolutely despise a certain famous celeb and derive joy from weaponizing their mistakes against them or spurring others to join in the hate of them, c) they’re miserable bullies who are unhappy with themselves — they’re just mean people, d) they’re sheep, mindless followers with no mind of their own; they hate because it’s popular, e) they used to stan an artist but now hate them (such as in the case of many current Selenators, who were former Beliebers) or have jumped ship, f) the artist that they stan currently is not giving them any content to admire or is taking a break from social media at the moment — temporary or prolonged, g) their entire existence revolves around social media; they have no identity outside of it and they have nothing better to do with their lives than keep track of everyone else, h) they’re mentally ill and in need of serious help. This is why stan culture is nothing more than crazed internet bullying.

Nnekakwo Adibe, Lesley University

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Nnekakwo Adibe

Lesley University
Sociology and Social Change

I am a full-time college student with a love for language and a passion for writing, music, art, books and poetry. I am currently navigating the art of storytelling.

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