If you get offended by this, or feel the intense need to say that you feel “called out,” then you are the exact problem with stan Twitter.
Fandoms, I would like to argue, have existed as long as people have liked things. Throughout the years, social media has helped the expansion of fandoms.
Now, you can see them predominantly on Twitter and Tumblr – and on Twitter, fandoms have adopted a specific name for themselves: stan Twitter.
And that, is where the problem begins.
Although the exact origins of the word “stan” is unknown, many believe that it is a portmanteau of the words “stalker” and “fan.” A “stan” refers to a person who goes to great lengths to show their obsession over a group, a book, or a franchise. This term seems to be popularized by a song of the same name by Eminem, where he describes an obsessed man, Stan, who loves Eminem and his music to the point of insanity. Stan wrote letters to Eminem constantly, but after a receiving no response from Eminem, Stan puts his girlfriend in the trunk of his car and drives to a bridge. Stan then drives the car over the bridge, presumably killing himself and his girlfriend who was pregnant with his kid.
This obsessive, over-the-top, and extremist behavior is often found in stan communities. It is very normalized by the people in the group and many find themselves being a “stan” full-time.
To say that it is very unhealthy and mentally taxing would be an understatement. It is easily one of the most toxic places you can be in.
The main – and the root – problem with stan Twitter are the stans themselves.
A while back, I used to be part of stan Twitter myself, and after less than two years, I decided enough was enough. I even wrote about why I left stan Twitter, and many of the points here are more or less covered back then. It is because stan Twitter, even after three years, has fundamentally not changed.
The Problem with Social Media
Due to the way social media is designed (to keep you on the platform as long as possible), the algorithms try and feed you content that is similar to the ones that you post yourself. As human beings are social creatures at their root, they constantly look for approval and reinforcement signals or signals that we belong. Jay Van Bavel, an associate professor at NYU, discovered that tweets with more “moral-emotional” language, such as “hate,” “blame,” and “shame,” are more likely to go viral.
“One of the reasons why we think this is happening is because when you’re using that type of tribal language, it sends a signal about who you are, what you care about, and what group you belong to.”Jay Van Bavel, “Why every social media site is a dumpster fire,” YouTube. September 21, 2018
The tribal desire to organize into “us” vs. “them” is a basic part of human nature. We constantly look to belong in a group and what better way than to use extreme words to send the strongest, clearest signal of what your identity is? This, in turn, clearly signals who the outgroup is – those that do not agree with you.
When you rally around those who constantly rain praise and use more emotional language, it leaves no doubt about which tribe we belong to. As moderate language doesn’t work as it doesn’t show who you are and who you affiliate with, it makes us want to use more extreme language to show our loyalty – this then will allow others in the same tribe/group to see you as one of their own.
Loud signals like these are frowned upon offline because there are social costs. Human beings have social checks, which can send us signals if something isn’t really landing well with everybody. If we get a signal that we are excluding someone, or we are rubbing them the wrong way, we usually tone down our language.
However, since social media wants you to stay on the site for as long as possible, they will feed you content that is addictive (to you). They also prevent you from getting social checks, so that you will not feel the need to tone yourself down. They cater to our tribal nature by showing you what you like.
Hence grouping together with others who share the same ideals – or favorite group/YouTuber/book/franchise/show.
This, coupled with reinforcements from your little social circle online, makes a perfect haven where everyone (should) agree with you, and where no one can say anything other than the things you agree with. Birds of a feather flock together.
The Stan (Mob) Mentality
Since humans are social creatures and coupled with the tribal connection we feel with the group of people that share our opinions, we feel the need to protect them when they are in distress. This is the root of the constant labeling and shunning that stans love to do.
Their mob mentality is so strong that they often leap on an attack without getting all the facts, just believing whatever one of them says because why would someone in their tribe want to mislead them?
This leads to them calling you out and throwing around the word “problematic” a lot, which is a label that they really like to use despite clearly not knowing what it actually means. This causes the wildfire-like spread of misinformation among the fandom/community which can quickly get out of hand. Whoever – or whatever – will be cast in a negative light that is difficult to recover from. This voluntary – and frankly self-sustaining – spread of misinformation from stans traces back to the biological need to be accepted and reinforcement.
Usually, information within stan communities are written in emotional language, which triggers the tribal mentality to engage with it. This is also the reason why fake news spreads so much more rapidly and reaches wider audiences than authentic ones, as they use extreme word choices and emotional language that tricks people into responding to it.
They also often have the tendency to blow things way out of proportion. It is hard to say why exactly they do this, but I would like to argue that it is because of the extremist word choices that they are accustomed to using after being surrounded by yes-men for an extended period of time.
The anonymity of social media also prevents us from getting our required social checks. This causes passionate people to do drastic things, without the necessary social cues from those around them to stop them.
Of course, this “oneness” can also do great things, such as spreading rapid awareness of a certain topic or issue. However, one good thing coming from the group does not change the overall toxicity they incubate in their ranks.
Putting the Idol On a Pedestal
In many stan communities, there is always a subject that they converge upon. Most of the time, it is a group (oftentimes a musical group) or a person (oftentimes an actor). As these people are the main focus of their identity, the physical embodiment of the tribe that they belong to, stans are often willing to defend these people to the death.
This leads to aggressive fights whenever they find that someone doesn’t like their “fav.” Although extreme content rarely leaves their echo chambers, there are always stragglers that people somehow manage to find. Or, in a rare case, a diverged fan that states their opposite opinion right in the middle of the stan safe space.
The habit of deciding that their idol or fav is without flaws and does everything perfect all of the time causes stans to lose their minds. At first, when they see the humanity that peaks through their idealized perfect version of the person, they make excuses for them. A rather unhealthy habit.
Then, when too much of those flaws leak past their golden façade, their overflowing and overwhelming amount of affection for the group or person becomes an overflowing and overwhelming amount of anger. They cannot handle the idea that their idol is not who they painted they are in their minds. They cannot handle the fact that everyone, no matter how soft or perfect they might appear on screen, are just human beings at the end of the day. Human beings that make mistakes and are flawed and most definitely not perfect.
The Fan (Customer) is Always Right
A lot of people have this complex, wherein they think that they are always in the right. It’s hard to argue with these types of people because no amount of logic or evidence can change their mind if they don’t actually think they’re wrong.
This, in turn, will lead to them deciding that those who do not agree with them “problematic” and wish to “cancel” them. It is the crux of stan communities: they think in black and white. If something isn’t to their liking, then it must be wrong.
Whether it is another person with a differing opinion or the shattered fantasy of their perfect idol, once stans have decided that you are in the wrong, no one is spared from their aggressive attacks.
If the subject of their aggression is just another person, they would be relentless in their attempts to insult the other and at the same time, promote their idol. They believe that they have the moral high ground because what kind of monster doesn’t love this precious little baby angel? Yet, immediately, they become hypocrites by bashing the other’s interests and likes.
An eye of an eye makes the world blind.
Should the subject of their anger be the idol that they once obsessed over, stans usually demand an explanation or an apology video, despite both of the options being known to not satisfy them. Usually, the apology comes with an action of some kind, most often the act of removing the item that offended the stans. However, this veers directly into the area of censorship. Stans just want something they don’t like to be removed, despite the creators having the right to express their views, in the form of their right to freedom of speech.
On top of that, stans don’t have an intimate knowledge of how their idols actually function. Other than the fact that they can only view a fraction of their idols’ lives, they also don’t understand the group effort that comes with maintaining a social media presence and an ever-growing number of fans.
Without knowing how teams function (as they are largely hidden from the view of the fans), stans that are miffed by the group either because they are “salty” for being ignored or rejected from a position to directly help the idols, will spread fake information that, as stated before, will spread like wildfire.
This aggressive spread of misinformation and sometimes, blatant lies, turns tiny issues that involve one person at least or two people at most into improbable chasms of troubles. The rapid speed at which these situation escalate quickly gets out of hand and, in the end, the aftermath must be cleaned up by the people who work for the idols.
Then, everything repeats itself like a sad, self-sustaining cycle of obsession and hatred.
Overtime, this causes severe and heavy blows to your mental health and, should you express this issue to the community, tons and loads of fake words of encouragement fills your mention for fifteen minutes. Then, true to the fast-paced nature of the stan culture, no one will even remember who you are after two months.
That is why the problem with stan Twitter are the stans themselves. They cause the drama, they spread the problems, and, at the end of the day, they refuse to take any responsibilities.
The only way to fix it is to cut the problem at the root. Stop promoting the unhealthy, obsessive nature of stan culture. Stop spreading information without fact-checking. And, for the love of anything that is holy, just be patient and understand the people you think are pretty cool are just that – people.
Your careless, brash, and immature behavior affects more than just you and the person you are trying to undermine. You drag way more people into the problem than necessary. Just stop and quit while you’re ahead.