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'Outlander' actor Sam Heughan takes a stand against toxic fans while many stars end up quitting social media

Trolls win social media flame wars too often and end up denying the larger, positive but less vocal fanbase a chance to interact with their idols. Talk about ruining the party
UPDATED APR 19, 2020
Sam Heughan (Getty)
Sam Heughan (Getty)

Toxic fans have always existed. Remember Mark David Chapman who shot John Lenon after getting his autograph? But in the age of social media and comic cons, the weapons in their arsenal seem to have only increased. 

The 'Outlander' fandom is currently buzzing after the show's male lead, Sam Heughan took to Twitter and Instagram April 17 to detail the harassment he has faced from toxic fans for the last six years through blogs and social media, ever since he became a star because of the popular show. 

"I am at a loss, upset, hurt and have to speak out,” he wrote. “It’s affecting my life, mental state and is a daily concern. My costars, friends, family, myself, in fact, I’m associated with, has been subjected to personal slurs, shaming, abuse, death threats, stalking, sharing private information and vile, false narrative," he said. 

While he did not name the fans bullying him for "ongoing legal reasons", he said they were "teachers, psychologists, adults who should know better" who had falsely accused him of "manipulating fans, being a closet-homosexual, trying to mislead or exhort fans for money and disregarding COVID advice."

In the age of "participatory media" where fans write fan fiction, churn out blogs, cosplay at fan gatherings and interact constantly with their idols on social media, the obsession can and does turn toxic. Recently, Rihanna called out her fans pestering her about her next album after not having released one since 2016. She snapped during an Instagram Live session when fans badgered her about when she plans to release her ninth album, commonly referred to as ‘R9′ in the fandom. “If one of y’all motherf–kers ask me about the album one more time when I’m tryna save the world, unlike y’all president….on sight!’ exclaimed the star. She had made fun on fans bothering her on social media in December 2019 by posting an Instagram video captioned, “update: me listening to R9 by myself and refusing to release it.”

Riri has made a point that as an artist, she can have her own schedule and that fans don't own her or her time just because they like her music. But Rihanna's case is still mild compared to what fellow-musician Lizzo had to endure for being a vocal advocate for body positivity. Subject to vicious cyberbullying, Lizzo made the decision to quit Twitter after January 6, 2020. Subsequently, her account's tweets have been labeled "by MGMT" to indicate her account is now being handled by her publicity team.

Selena Gomez has also spoken about having to take a two-year social media break from 2018 to recover her self esteem. She told Zane Lowe on New Music Daily that: "There were accounts that were dissecting me, down to my body, to my face, my features, choices I've made, telling stories, and it drove me crazy, because I honestly just wanted to be like, 'None of you even know what you're talking about,' and it just destroyed me."

Gomez also had to jump in to defend her ex-boyfriend Justin Bieber's wife, Hailey Bieber, after trolls went after her for supposedly dissing Gomez's track 'Lose You To Love Me'. In an Instagram Live video, she spoke to her fans saying: "I am so grateful for the response this song is getting. However, I do not stand for women tearing women down. And I will never, ever be by that. So please be kind to everyone. It doesn’t matter what the situation is, if you’re my fans don’t be rude to anyone, please."

Her experience of being criticized to a breaking point and pitting one idol against another is not unique to just the music industry here. The deaths of K-Pop stars Sulli and Goo Hara in 2019 within weeks of each other also put the spotlight on mental health and cyberbullying in South Korea and how fan "armies" attack those celebrities they have marked as rivals of their idols.  

Movie stars have also been viciously trolled for not conforming to their idea of what a fan-favorite character should look or act like. Both Ben Affleck and Daniel Craig faced intense and vitriolic social media backlash after being selected for the iconic characters of 'Batman' and 'James Bond', respectively. Both have proven these die-hard franchise fans to be wrong by delivering box office hits.

However, when film franchises don't do as well as expected, stars have an even harder time. After the 'Star Wars: Last Jedi' debacle, the film's star Kelly Marie Tran faced months of sexist and racist comments and death threats.

Despite being the first woman of color in the franchise, her part was drastically reduced in the next 'Star Wars' film, 'The Rise of Skywalker', which made trolls think they had won, though it might have been a case of CGI fail. Later Tran wrote a piece for 'The New York Times' about the online harassment she faced, starting with the lines: "It wasn’t their words, it’s that I started to believe them. Their words seemed to confirm what growing up as a woman and a person of color already taught me: that I belonged in margins and spaces, valid only as a minor character in their lives and stories."

In the same article, she also wrote, "for months, I went down a spiral of self-hate, into the darkest recesses of my mind, places where I tore myself apart, where I put their words above my own self-worth", describing the effects of cyberbullying.

Similarly, when 'Orange is the New Black' star, Ruby Rose, was picked to play the lesbian superhero, Batwoman/Kate Kane on The CW show, she was bizarrely called out for "not being gay enough" for the role despite coming out when she was just 12.

The actress tried defending herself but when it all got too much, she decided, like Kelly Marie Tran to delete her Twitter account. Before leaving the social media platform, she wrote: "Where on earth did 'Ruby is not a lesbian, therefore, she can't be batwoman' come from – has to be the funniest most ridiculous thing I've ever read. I came out at 12? And have for the past five years had to deal with 'she's too gay', how do y'all flip it like that? I didn't change."

Thankfully, Sam Heughan hasn't decided to delete his social media accounts yet and many 'Outlander' fans and his co-stars have rallied to his side denouncing haters. But trolls win social media flame wars too often and end up denying the larger, positive but less vocal fanbase a chance to interact with their idols. Talk about ruining the party.