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Searching For Community Amongst Celebrities & Cyberbullies
The Verified
The General Public
The Troll

The culture of the internet in modern-day pop culture finds itself to be all-consuming, cyclical and overly commentated. Like many, I am an active social media user amazed at the vastness and quickness each platform continues to offer. Similarly, as a Gen-Z person, I’ve grown up using social media and interacting with friends, family, and strangers virtually for nearly a decade. Huge communities of social media platforms including Twitter and Instagram create discourse targeting celebrities and more recently, influencers. The internet has given anyone a platform in which any image, video, or sound-bite details swarms of tweets, headlines, and comments. Social media platforms, including Twitter, Instagram, and Tik Tok create parasocial relationships between public figures, internet “trolls”, and general users through visual trends and internet speak, which lead to disillusioned personal connections.

This image was released in December 2021 taken in Los Angeles depicting a simple paparazzi image of filmmaker and actor, Olivia Wilde. In this image, Wilde is casually shopping during the day, tote bag on shoulder, and face mask on her face. The discourse began at her sweatshirt, plain black with the graphic text: Pleasing. The infamous merchandise by Harry Styles, pop musician turned amateur actor, who was rumored to be romantically involved with Wilde. This image of Wilde wearing his personalized merchandise didn’t help the internet move away from the rumors.

The simple image of a woman shopping becomes much larger in the context of its time and place on the internet. Any person active on Twitter and in the film commentary community would feel so inclined to add their opinion of this photo whether positive or negative. An image based in controversies and rumors contains the power to snowball any online conversation, creating its own version of relevancy. The concept of the celebrity image continues to intensify "our addiction to the artificial." (Goldsmith


Through the internet, we find our own niches and interests and communities. There’s fan-bases for pop-stars, makeup gurus, comedy podcast hosts, and an endless trail of other online personalities. Online communities, mostly of teenage girls, have often been criticized for, what the internet has coined, “fan behavior.” Fan bases have existed for decades in which people followed their favorite musicians on tour or rooted for a specific football team, all similar to how we feed into celebrity and fan dynamics. Celebrities share their art, music, theatrical performances, etc. to their audiences. As an audience, we find social media the 21st century gift in keeping updated with any announcements and projects.

With these online communities, it becomes inevitable that the power dynamics shift between fan and creator. The fan base supports the creator, but with social media presence, the public has increasingly more information on celebrities and their lives. Not only is it easy, but encouraged to share parts of ourselves and our routines through photo dumps and 30 second Tik Toks. And on social media, anyone, regardless of net worth, can post whatever and whenever they choose. Especially during the middle of lockdown periods, people grew physically apart, hoping to become virtually closer by documenting “the unremarkable moments of our daily existence.” (O’Connell 2022) It suddenly became validating if the celebrities we look up to started posting the aspects of their routine that aligned with their fans. 

In my own experience, fan communities have been an accessible place to connect with others around the world. I have met online friends in real life and geeked out over our shared interests. I have also seen the tension between different communities online and real life. Opposing fandoms often strike in very intense ways due to their dedication to a certain celebrity or group. In recent months, Selena Gomez and Hailey Bieber were pitted against each other because fans speculated that Hailey copied Selena. This tension mirrors many instances of people pitting women against each other. All of it unnecessary, as both Selena and Hailey have mentioned online. Elle Magazine details the decade long timeline of the connection between the two women, detailing how much information we can access as an audience and then form into our own narratives.

When heated debates form online, I personally do my best to stay out of them and know as little information as possible. Most of them are inconsequential, where neither party has caused significant harm. Many of their mistakes are amplified due to being publicized, so while celebrities gain loyalty from fans, they also over analyze the same people they admire.

Different psychological studies show the effects of social media use in relation to social anxiety, loneliness, and identity development. Other aspects of device use also include increased mood levels and social support, which are linked to the function of internet fanbases. The connection to social media allows us" to cope with unwanted solitude." A study at the University of Texas identifies the parasocial relationships developed during the beginning of the pandemic specifically among LGBTQ youth. The desire for parasocial relationships then weakened the personal connections and family support in real life. Many young internet users go to form communities online, and LGBTQ communities have become so important in online safe spaces.


Released on March 17, 2023, Donald Glover and Janine Nabers' newest TV series, Swarm, has generated a conversation about parasocial relationships and internet fan communities. Within its dark comedic theme, the main character Dre searches for connection through the pop star she has loved since she was a child, Ni'Jah, an imitation of Beyonce. Throughout seven episodes, we follow Dre's journey mourning the loss of her sister, Marissa, who held together the last strings of family in Dre's life and her misguided attempt at connecting with people, blindsided by her deep love of Marissa and an unhealthy obsession with Ni'Jah.

The series explicitly notes at the start of each episode that the characters portrayed are intentionally referring to real people. The characters and storyline are strung together by real events like elevator fights and someone biting Beyonce at a party. For LA Times, Janine Nabers says, "So it’s really not a work of fiction. We’ve taken real internet rumors, real murders and combined them in the narrative of our main character, Dre." This type of storytelling is so fascinating to me because it reworks the reality of many different people, either in the spotlight or not, and creates something that is so realistically frightening and jarring.


While Instagram goes through its phases of visual and compositional trends, the language of the internet continues to poke at the ethics of its own platform’s terms and conditions. It’s not just the creation or revival of internet slang terms that encompasses the way we speak to each other. Any bad takes or “hot takes” can undoubtedly be backed up by members of the same fandom (fan-base) or community. 

Online forms of hate have been looked down upon during early days of Instagram, but over time accepted more commonly. Platforms like Twitter and Tik Tok are stronger in text-based posts, where in a short amount of words you are given the opportunity to be seen. Virality has given content creators the opportunity to expand their branding, so creating a hit tweet or sparking a conversation on Tik Tok can make or break a career. Popularity strikes with creating controversial opinions, even when it includes spreading hate.

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Vice writer, Larry Fitzmaurice dissects the online community of TV animation, Rick & Morty, fans as “exclusionary (and often overwhelmingly male)” an unfortunately common trope throughout most online groups. The negative image of this fandom is painted by its “pretentiousness over genuine appreciation” of the art itself. However, some of the fandom’s negative outlook now stems from creator, Justin Roiland’s recent domestic abuse charges and uncovering of his rather obscene misogynist and homophobic private messages. Roiland’s use of hate speech violates Twitter’s hateful conduct policy section which they, “prohibit targeting others with repeated slurs, tropes or other content that intends to dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes.” Additionally, part of Instagram’s recent developed hate speech policy notes that “when someone sends DMs that break our rules, we prohibit that person from sending any more messages for a set period of time.” Social media policies prove to never be powerful enough to enforce fully safe spaces for users of all communities and levels of fame.

While hate speech lives on the internet in terrible, intense bursts like Roiland’s private messages, it also derives from anonymity and irony. Anonymity and the lightning speed in which we consume content, gives us a chance to say hateful thoughts supported by the anonymous like-minded. Similarly, the use of irony in “internet speak” contributes to feeling included in a viral inside joke. Within the last few years, Tik Tok created an outburst of the dark, humorous internet language with the way users interact with each other’s content. The app’s algorithm feeds content based solely on interests and likes rather than letting the user choose content to follow. The home feed moves quickly, enough for the viewer to not remember any usernames or faces longer than a few minutes. While scrolling through 15 second videos, the comment section always steals the spotlight. There we find a treasure trove of validation disguised in cryptic dark humor and pleading for attention.  



Based on Chad Kultgen's novel, Men, Women, & Children became a movie released in 2014. The film, directed by Jason Reitman, details the lives of several American families and their relation to technological upbringings of online personas. The narrative compares overprotective parents and parents exploiting their children based on social media usage.

While it has been nearly a decade since the film's release, and its highly negative feedback, it still develops a complex conversation around peoples' perceptions of social media. Because social media revolves around capitalism, many people find jobs through content creation. And as terrible as it was to witness one of the parents selling her daughter's images online, it doesn't appear too different from how parents profit off their children's online existence today.

Reitman, Jason, director. Men, Women, & Children. Paramount Pictures, 2014. 116 mins.

As much as social media has proven to affect one's ability to make real-life connections, it dramatically alters the relationships we have already made with family and friends. YouTube became much more prevalent around the time of the film's release, and over the years, there have been different phases of YouTube influencer styles and genres. Over the last few years, channels dedicated to vlogging their day-to-day life ventured from Southern California's rich, white, 20-somethings to the upper-middle-class American family.

Different channels began popping up, like The Labrant Family, who infamously made videos of their kids, starting with their birth. This type of heavy documentation has been criticized by viewers, for its exploitative behavior by the parents, despite the video views landing in the millions. Unfortunately, most family channels follow the same route, documenting the baby's birth and profiting off content as they grow up. Realizing that even the people meant to care for us may not provide us with a safe space to grow shows the dangers of future generations' intersection with social media and capitalism.

The internet cultivated space for creators worldwide to share pieces of culture, politics, and entertainment. Social media fast-tracked our abilities to discover new interests and communities. The same as it created public figures and influencers that circulate messages of positivity and negativity for their audience of everyday people. The algorithms for each user influence our opinions, one road leading to the next, and soon enough, the discoveries of niche internet cultures live alongside areas of tension, hatred, and confusion. At times of doom-scrolling pop culture discourse, the algorithm should never stop the voice in the back of our head telling us to take a moment to breathe and find some grass to touch.

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