This month’s theme is ‘gatekeeping’. Today’s piece looks at gatekeeping and harassment in online spaces.
John deletes his Instagram, his DeviantArt; he’s already deleted his tumblr and other sites linked to his J05draws username and set up a twitter under a new psuedonym. He’s relieved he never put his real name on those sites. Ten years ago he was enjoying being a fanartist. He was recently starting to use his popularity to highlight his original works and planning on taking commissions.
Slowly though there had a push against artists. He noticed some fandom gatekeeping on who was a good fan. Then it moved onto what were the best ships (relationships between fictional characters). Then more fandom policing by ‘antis’ on what were ‘good’ or ‘acceptable’ ships and which ships and what kind of content was ‘bad’ or ‘problematic’.
Soon it was drawing ‘bad’ ships was wrong and people were getting harassed over them. The closeknit community he loved is now unrecognisable.
An online friend of John’s got death threats for drawing a character that was a teen in an anime which he and John both liked. The friend, only known to John as Arts01OK, had drawn her as an adult, in a piece he tagged as taking place ten years after the show. People started calling him a p*dophile because ageing her up was the same as drawing her as a sexy teen…John never quite understood the logic.
What John did understand was that the harassment got so bad, including someone saying they had his personal details and were going to tell his boss he was a child abuser, that his friend put up one last message, “You win. You want me dead? Fine.”
John’s never heard from his friend again. He doesn’t know if Arts01OK is dead or just quit social media. He hopes it is the latter.
He starts looking for others who have been harassed; there are stories by fanartists and fanfic writers about harassment. Rape threats. Constant “kill yourself” comments if they are deemed problematic.
Someone tries to feed needles to a fanartist at a convention. This is what things have come to, people in fandom being targeted for physical harm other fictional content despite far more shocking things existing in mainstream media.
When John gets his first “ur gross” comment about a piece depicting a relationship between two characters that some people love and other people hate he shrugs it off. But when after he doubles down and draws another piece, this piece Not Safe For Work, with some mild nudity, he gets an onslaught of abuse that follows him on every social media linked to his online user name.
John is not going to kill himself. He also hasn’t got the energy to deal with this abuse. So he deletes everything. Sets up a professional account for original work with a Patreon, and sets up a new fandom account and mutes all notifications for it. So j05draws might be gone but John Geraldine artist who only draws ‘respectable’ creations isn’t, and Arts01NeverForget continues to draw the content John and his fans enjoy.
Maybe one day the gatekeeping and harassment and fandom-as-activism will fade and things will become civil again. Right now John does what he needs to feel safe.
Notes: This article on Geek Dad, Toxic Fandom: When Criticism and Entitlement Go Too Far goes into some detail about how fandom as activism has led to creators getting death threats and includes the fanartist being given cookies filled with needles mentioned in the text. https://geekdad.com/2018/10/toxic-fandom-when-criticism-and-entitlement-go-too-far/
This article https://kathrynhemmann.com/2018/10/27/call-out-culture-on-tumblr/ looks at the difference between calling out genuinely dangerous behaviour and the tumblr harassment over fictional works
This article talks about a fanartist who says harassment from ‘antis’ drove her to attempt suicide https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/3da838/an-attempted-suicide-forced-a-tumblr-community-to-open-its-eyes-about-bullying
Where does purity policing come from? at https://prostasia.org/blog/what-purity-policing-fans-get-wrong/ gives some background:
“Purity policing has also been visibly influenced by other social movements outside fandom, who join pile-ons and shape the “discourse” by which it is justified. These movements include anti-porn feminism, pedo-hunter vigilantism, and even the intolerant Christian right, which regularly attacks pop culture properties such as Big Mouth and (yes) Sabrina for promoting masturbation or the “transgender agenda.” These make odd bedfellows for purity policing fans, most of whom profess to be pursuing their agenda from a “social justice” orientation.” Noting that “Since it is so disconnected from any real-world sexual abuse, this kind of toxic behavior seems incomprehensible to many outsiders. Yet it has become an inescapable part of the online experience of many fans. “
Those are just a few links that can give some context to this fictional piece about harassment in some fandom spaces and how that has spread beyond fandom creators to anyone enjoying “bad” content and to sending death threats to the creators of the media via their social media.
I used the spelling p*dophile rather than the UK pa*dophile because the harassment is most often coming from US spaces. I censor the word because using the word in any context can get your social media banned, and even harassers will often throw the false accusation worded as “p*do”.