When Stans Go Too Far, Artists Need To Speak Out

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Toxic stan culture keeps making headlines as a force that’s doing a lot of harm. 

Stans have become known for attacking journalists and commentators online, in massive organised onslaughts that lead to death threats and doxing, when the artist they love has been criticised

Swiftie Stans Take On Pitchfork Over ‘folklore’ Reviews

Most recently, a Pitchfork journalist was hit hard by Taylor Swift fans after reviewing Swift’s latest album as an 8/10 instead of giving it the perfect score.  

I want to understand why some stans behave this way and what, if anything, can be done to stop the toxic stan culture.

The idea of a ‘stalker fan’ which we know as a ‘stan’ today isn’t exactly new.  

But stan communities online have taken on a different identity in recent years, and some of them have become pretty well recognised for attacking people who are critical of the musicians they love.  

Nic Kelly: The advantage of the internet for these stan communities is that they could come together in larger groups than they ever could before. They got the ability to organise, whether that be in the DMs or chatrooms or forums, and then obviously launch their all-out attack on journalists and folks in the public sphere. 

That’s Nic Kelly, he’s a music broadcaster and knows a lot about toxic stan culture – including some brushes where he’s been hit by the abuse himself.  

So, Why Have Some Stans Become Known For Lashing Out At Journalists?  

Kelly said it comes down to why these communities form in the first place.  

NK: “You become a superfan of an artist when they really connect with you on a deeper level. Rather than you just [liking] a song or two, you really feel like you’re connected to this person. That’s obviously the power of music. 

Kelly told me stans feel real gratitude towards artists because they’ve provided them with a sense of belonging, which can be a really positive thing.  

But that gratitude can also manifest in aggression, when stans think their favourite artists are being criticised in the public eye.  

Keeping in mind these two really contrasting aspects to stan culture – the helpful belonging and the toxic aggression – can anything be done to keep the communities erring towards acting positively?  

The Artists Themselves Can Direct How Their Stan Armies Behave

Well, the artists themselves can direct how their stan armies behave.  

When radio host Ash London lightly poked fun at One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson on air, she was hounded by his fans and Tomlinson didn’t do anything to discourage it. In fact, he seemed to enjoy what they were doing and sent out this tweet to London. 

Encouraged by Tomlinson himself, his fans are pretty well recognised now for leading these charges against journalists.  

NK: “So they either do it like that or, how Ariana Grande does or Taylor swift has done sometimes, where they tell their fans not to do this kind of stuff and really stands up for the folks who are critical of [them] and encourage the critique of [their] work. 

It’s interesting because if the artist actively speaks out … against what these stans are doing, it seems to turn them into a slightly more positive community and really brings it back to a sense of belonging  back to that positive thing that stan culture can provide for people. 

Publishers Are Taking Action To Protect Journalists

Publications are also starting to speak up about how seriously stan attacks can personally affect journalists.

Last week, Junkee published this piece stating that certain articles would now be published anonymously because the safety of writing staff was too at-risk.  

Junkee said that over the past few years there have been at least a dozen attacks against their journalists where their locations were revealed or workplaces, universities and even family members have been bombarded with calls.  

Kelly said that he’s sad publications have to take that kind of action but ultimately, he believes the change for stan culture has to come from within their own communities and not from journalists putting their foot down.  

NK: “Stan culture is a really beautiful thing when it gets it right. And it has provided so much lift for so many people all around the world … hope the stan cultures of the future shift to remembering that, and pushing for change, and pushing for the most positive outcomes. 

The Takeaway 

At their roots, stan communities are really positive places, where people have found a sense of belonging through this shared appreciation for an artist.  

But both the online leaders and the artists themselves need to acknowledge when they’re acting in a toxic and harmful way, and direct their communities back to that positivity – because this kind of orchestrated bullying can’t just be accepted as a normal aspect of any fandom.