When a Fandom Turns Toxic

Steven UniverseThis is really depressing read about the dark side of an online fandom, and the way social media all too often brings out the worst in people.

There has got to be something fundamentally wrong with a subculture that believes bullying to the point of suicide attempts is justified in the name of some ill-defined greater good.

Steven Universe is a beloved animated children’s show known for its smart and progressive depictions of its diverse and lovable cast of characters.

But these positive qualities in the show itself have led to a very ugly turn of events in the Steven Universe fandom, after a beleaguered fanartist said she attempted suicide after being bullied by members of the fandom who felt her art was problematic. In a bizarre turn of events prompted by the ensuing debate over what kinds of fanart are acceptable, some fans have now turned even against the show’s creative team, including show creator Rebecca Sugar.

I’ve blogged before about the way the design of some social media sites affect the ways in which their users behave, for good or for ill.

Internet harassment is a subject of major concern at the moment. Social media sites including Twitter, Reddit and 4chan have come in for much well-deserved criticism for the way they can spawn toxic communities.  You hear far less about Tumblr, despite the site having developed a terrible reputation for this sort of thing.

It does leave the impression that much of the media debate on harassment is viewed through a lens of an increasingly ugly turf war between libertarianism and feminism, and some parts of the media are reluctant to cover stories that don’t support their chosen narrative. Is the lack of coverage of this story part of that pattern?

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