When Fans Go To War, Can Anything Be Done To Stop Them?

Photo: Gareth Cattermole/TAS18/Getty Images.

Megan Thee Stallion is the artist fueling the meme that defined summer 2019: hot girl summer. Along with Lil Nas X, she’s one of the breakout stars of the season, thanks to the viral catchphrase she coined herself and a subsequent hit song of the same name featuring her new friend Nicki Minaj. Megan’s an innovator for another reason, too: She’s holding her fans, who she calls Hotties, accountable for their behavior and encouraging a positive fandom.

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In a climate where fans and stans make the news cycle largely for bullying, when they attack en masse after beefs, slights, insults, bad reviews, or any disparagement of their favorite artist, encouraging positivity and diplomacy should be top of mind for anyone with a big microphone and a lot of followers. Online bullying has serious real-life consequences. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the effects of bullying can include depression, anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep or eating patterns, and health complaints.

“Drama is never going to end, because we're human. But we don't have to feed it. When drama escalates, it becomes bullying and harassment,” Kortney Peagram, Ph.D. and Owner/President of Bulldog Solution Inc. tells Refinery29. Peagram and her team put on anti-bullying programs in schools, student programs, and workplaces across the country. And she’s a fan of what Megan is doing within her fanbase. “Megan has strong boundaries. She's not doing so much work that takes up her time, she's just saying, that was out of line, stop. She's an incredible example, setting the groundwork for respecting other people and herself.”

While Megan’s fans will step to other stars who are perceived as sliding into her space with disrespect (they’ve been all over blackbear this week for his “hot girl bummer” single and Saweetie for implying she’ll be taking over this winter, when hot girl summer passes), it only takes a tweet from Megan to pop them back in line — and remind them of her values.

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Many other artists could learn from Megan’s boundary-setting for her fans. Nicki Minaj and Cardi B’s ongoing beef has turned into a free-for-all among their fan groups, who seem to be constantly at war and on high alert for a coded message about a new target from their faves. “It's not being a good role model,” Peagram says. “You're saying that it's okay to behave that way because whoever you're attacking deserves it, but no one deserves the attack online...What if that statement wasn't directed at that celebrity?”

That was, in fact, the case earlier this year when Megan’s fans thought a random Instagram story statement from Cardi was directed at the up-and-comer. It wasn’t. Both women had to stop their fans from mobbing each other.

In one of the largest online fights of 2019, if only because of the array of people who got involved in it, Taylor Swift started a conversation about artist’s rights upon learning that her back catalog of music on Big Machine Records was being purchased and controlled by Scooter Braun. She accused Braun of bullying her on- and offline for years, and described herself as “grossed out” by the sale. She also opened up a much-needed conversation about the rights artists retain over their own work, something she has long championed. But her fans quickly took aim at Braun, her former label head Scott Borchetta, and Justin Bieber.

“Everyone knows what it feels like to be grossed out, to feel played, to feel like I don't want that to happen to Taylor,” Peagram explains. “They think they're doing good by attacking other people, but they don't understand the consequences...I don't think people understand [the scale of what they're doing], nor do I think they really care. They think they're protecting the celebrity, but they don't understand the impact they have, and they're not clear on their intention. If your intention is to harm, do you understand the real impact? If your intention is to protect, are you taking the right approach?”

And then there’s Beyoncé, who is famously not online other than a carefully curated Instagram, and whose Beyhive is famously stinging. After Bey dropped Lemonade, the hunt to find Becky with the good hair, Jay Z’s alleged mistress mentioned in the song “Sorry,” was on. The suspicions of Beyhive detectives fell on Rachel Roy, who had to essentially go offline for a prolonged period, after making her social accounts private, to escape attacks against her (and her young daughter) by fans. At any point, this behavior could have been dissuaded, but Beyoncé didn’t utter a peep. The Beyhive got their first official chiding this summer when Beyoncé’s longtime publicist Yvette Noel-Schure spoke out about their conspiracy theories around Bey possibly pulling a face when another woman, Nicole Curran, spoke to Jay at a basketball game. If that sounds inconsequential, it was not. For the first time in Beyoncé’s two decades in the spotlight, Noel-Schure posted a timely Insta directly the hive, telling them to love and not hate. And team Bey could turn the conversation around just like that, Peagram says.

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If your intention is to harm, do you understand the real impact? If your intention is to protect, are you taking the right approach?
Kortney Peagram, Ph.D. and Owner/President of Bulldog Solution Inc.

“Because Beyoncé is private, you wouldn't want to go against her values and force her to constantly go online to say something to her fans. But having her publicist say, ‘Hey, this who Beyoncé is and what she stands for. When you swarm these people, you're not representing Beyoncé. She wouldn't want that,’” Peagram says. “It's taking a stand in a way that shows people how to love and value her by following in her footsteps through empowered ambassadors who spread kindness versus hate.”

No matter their level of involvement with fans, from Megan Thee Stallion and Taylor Swift’s intense online presences to Beyoncé’s distance, celebrities can and should direct their fans when bullying begins. “If celebrities got on board and focused on sharing the message, it would be this: there is a person behind the account you're attacking. By attacking them, you're harming another person,” Peagram says. “We get behind these screens and don't realize the impact our words have. Our intentions get skewed. Hate spreads like a virus. All celebrities have to do is stand up for kindness and compassion to change turn the conversation.”

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