Twitter is a place for people to connect, where many have discussions with and about their favorite celebrities.
But in recent years, a new term has been used to describe obsessive fans or “stans.” These are people who support a creator to extreme lengths, even attacking or bullying non-fans online.
Twitter has become notorious for these toxic spaces with the allowed anonymity of a celebrity profile picture and themed username. Nursing sophomore Mia Wilson said stans were born with a high level of celebrity worship and eagerness to attack someone over their favorite singer.
Wilson believes people defend their favorite celebrities so passionately on Twitter because they feel the need to be right and have the last word in every exchange, she said.
Because of the visibility of high-profile celebrities and their ability to share their lives with online followers, fans can create deep connections with them and overstep their admiration, she said.
For Wilson, being a passionate fan of Beyoncé, for example, and thinking she’s the most talented singer doesn’t mean one has to hurl insults and argue with someone else who doesn’t hold that same opinion.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a fan, but there is such a thing as being a superfan and overstepping that line,” Wilson said.
Some of the Twitter fanbases Wilson sees as the most combative are Beyonce’s “Beyhive,” Nicki Minaj’s “Barbz” and Cardi B’s “Bardigang.”
Despite being a fan of all three women, Wilson doesn’t partake in stan Twitter culture herself. She doesn’t like the celebrity-obsessed culture of today and the levels people will go to defend a celebrity they don’t personally know, she said.
These women are influential and wield a lot of power and influence, especially over younger people who are more impressionable, Wilson said. Younger people are more likely to engage in stan Twitter culture, and it’s up to the fans to be responsible and mindful of who and what they’re engaging with online.
Combating toxic Twitter stan culture begins with stans acknowledging that celebrities are human beings who aren’t perfect, and they’re going to make mistakes or do things that make people upset, Wilson said.
Holding celebrities accountable for wrongdoings in person and online is important because of the level of influence they have over people, Wilson said. There has to be a line between holding celebrities accountable for their actions while not being overly critical.
Public health junior Ashley Deyampert sees stan culture — and Twitter stan culture especially — as the fetishization of celebrities.
Deyampert said she is able to enjoy the art someone creates but isn’t going to follow and defend a celebrity in any way just because she likes their art.
The art a celebrity puts out and the person they publicly present themselves to be are separate from the person they actually are. These people could be doing hurtful things to others unbeknownst to their fans, and that’s why Deyampert does not blindly support any one celebrity, she said.
People who engage in stan Twitter culture most likely look at celebrities as their friends and or people they have personal relationships with. They want to defend their friend when they’re being bashed online, Deyampert said.
As a result, not getting sucked into Twitter stan culture requires the maturity to separate oneself from online drama and remember that the celebrity they’re defending is a stranger, she said.
Stans bullying others for calling out influencers like James Charles, who has faced allegations of sexually predatory behavior, isn’t a productive or positive use of the internet, Deyampert said.
English sophomore Dezarria Taylor doesn’t necessarily see Twitter stan culture as a bad thing but more of a collective group of people who all admire the same celebrity.
However, Taylor does see how stan culture can be toxic when it discourages people from expressing differing opinions online. It can be easy for words or opinions to get misconstrued when engaging with passionate fans, she said.
K-pop fans on Twitter are the group Taylor sees as the worst in terms of behavior online because of the numerous groups and varying opinions, she said.
Fans who battle with issues like depression, relationship problems and more can connect deeply to artists who discuss the same subjects in their art. That relatability is one reason why fans defend them so vigorously, Taylor said.
When fans have been able to connect with a celebrity and feel like they know them, they take it personally when said celebrity is attacked and jump to their aid, she said.
Stan culture on Twitter doesn’t have to automatically be toxic, Deyampert said. If a celebrity is promoting body positivity or access to mental health services, their fans can rally behind that positive message to promote something meaningful instead of hate.
Taylor said celebrities like Cardi B are starting to address their fans directly when they’re involved in a controversy and thank them for their support while also encouraging them to not bully people or blow things out of proportion on social media.
Twitter ultimately isn’t responsible for holding stans accountable for their behavior online, Taylor said. It’s up to the fandoms themselves to police their behavior and behave like adults.