If you visit Sofia Richie's Instagram feed, you'll notice that the comments have been turned off. Not because she wants to control her brand, or because she's being a brat. It's because of the death threats. Sofia Richie is a 17-year-old girl, the daughter of singer Lionel Richie, and she has most recently become known as Justin Bieber's love interest. That last title has made her a target for cyberbullying. The bullying quickly grew to a fever pitch, even spurring Bieber to threaten to leave Instagram if fans didn't stop. The move led to some drama between Bieber and his ex Selena Gomez that played out like a bad episode of The O.C. or One Tree Hill. Afterward, choosing sides became a game: You're either Team Justin or Team Selena. But before you get too distracted by the aftermath, remember, it started with fans relentlessly trolling a 17-year-old girl. Richie isn't the first celebrity girlfriend to be shamed, threatened, and harassed online. Go back to 2014, when Robert Pattinson started dating singer FKA Twigs after a highly publicized relationship with his Twilight co-star Kristen Stewart. The British singer quickly became the target of internet vitriol. Twi-hards, Kristen Stewart fans, and Robert Pattinson fans started to leave racist comments on the singer's Instagram feed as well as Pattinson's, not to mention on Twitter. One user tweeted, "It feels to be an ugly monkey shit bitch" to her. Another tweeted, "I’ll kill ugly, black black black please check out did not arrive or to the heels to Kristen." That user's account has since been deleted. There were so many horrible tweets and comments that websites even collected roundups. Eventually, FKA Twigs admitted that the bullying had “genuinely shocked and disgusted" her.
Maybe it's the anonymity of hiding behind a username that makes people feel safe spewing this kind of ridicule. Or maybe it's fans' overwhelming feeling that they have a stake in a celebrity's life choices — simply because they are fans.
And although One Direction has started to fall apart, its fans still find the time to cyberbully members' girlfriends and wives. When news broke that Briana Jungwirth was carrying Louis Tomlinson's baby, fans pounced. It didn't matter that she wasn't posing with him for photos on Instagram. She started facing harassment and death threats. After their baby was born, a fan found Tomlinson's number, called him, and threatened the life of their child. Why do fans do this? Why do they tear down young girls and women who are dating male celebrities? We live in a world where people can be so in love with a celebrity — a person who doesn't even know them — that it can lead to this kind of intense jealousy and rage. Maybe it's the anonymity of hiding behind a username that makes people feel safe spewing this kind of ridicule. Or maybe it's fans' overwhelming feeling that they have a stake in a celebrity's life choices — simply because they are fans. In either case, why does bullying seem like the answer? Since when are death threats acceptable as an expression of fandom? Here's a news flash: Your internet boyfriend is NOT your real boyfriend. He doesn't belong to you. He doesn't owe you anything. And if you're angry about his romantic choices, and really want to share that feeling, then go ahead. But don't threaten him or his girlfriend online. The internet is a cruel place. Women are harassed every damn day for all manner of things — from their race to their weight to their opinions. These days, apparently who you choose to date is another cause for persecution. Even if you're only 17 years old.