If there’s one problem in this Internet age, it’s toxic fandom. Toxic fans exist in all fandoms, but the most prominent examples recently have included the Star Wars and Star Trek fandoms. An article on Quirktastic, “Four Fandoms That are Toxic and Ruining It for the Rest of Us,” goes in-depth on four of the fandoms that have had serious problems with toxic fans. These are a small, but vocal, minority of fans who have taken it upon themselves to, in their view, defend the virtue of their chosen fandom as they see it, but in reality act as entitled bullies to anyone who would disagree with them. This has been an ongoing problem since long before the Internet, but the rise of social media has given these people a larger platform from which to sow discord and, at times, outright hatred.
These fans operate, largely, within the safety of the anonymity of social media, and ruthlessly act as gatekeepers to their chosen fandom, attacking anyone who doesn’t share their view of what is “correct.” These toxic fans have harassed and bullied other fans online, but their vitriol doesn’t stop there; the online bullying has extended even to the people responsible for creating the very content that they claim to be fans of, and have driven many stars to restrict or even eliminate their online presence. One of the most recent—and most extreme—examples is Kelly Marie Tran, who starred as Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Tran was targeted by these toxic fans—often referred to as gatekeepers—and subjected to incredibly racist, misogynistic, and hateful messages. The gatekeepers’ screed became so severe, she joined several others—almost exclusively women, and most of them from the Star Wars franchise—in abandoning her social media presence.
The overwhelming majority of fans are not like this. We need to address this cancer in our fandoms, and it needs to be exposed and excised. When we see gatekeepers attempting to silence anyone that they disagree with through harassment and bullying, we need to put a stop to it. There are several steps that we can take to do this:
Hold Them Accountable
When you see someone acting as a gatekeeper, call them out on their behavior. Remind them that there are many different perspectives in fandom. Tell them why they are wrong, and try to change their minds.
Keep the negative content out of your feed. When you see someone who is being consistently, overwhelmingly negative, and refuses to change their ways, block that person. When enough of us do that, they will be starved of the attention that they seek, and will be forced to find other means—hopefully, more positive means—to get that attention.
Social media sites have very specific Terms of Service that dictate how the sites can be used. Bullying, harassment, racism, misogyny, and other toxic behaviors violate those terms. These gatekeepers’ violations of the Terms of Service should be reported to the site administrators, so that action can be taken to curb that toxic behavior.
In the end, there is only so much that we can do. We need to know our own personal limits, and that includes when we can no longer engage with gatekeepers. For our own mental and emotional well-being, we need to know when it’s time to step away and refocus our energies elsewhere. There are more of us than there are of the gatekeepers; let someone else carry the torch for a while.