What Ye’s Online War Reveals About the Dangers of Celebrity Fandom

Ethan Abrenica, a freshman at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, was packing for a road trip in Los Angeles last Sunday when shortly after midnight, his Instagram and Reddit notifications started “exploding.”

“I just started shaking, I was like, ‘Oh my God, no way. No way Kanye just posted my meme,’ he said. watch out, because he’s my favorite artist.”

Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, had posted a photo on Instagram of an altered poster of the film “Captain America: Civil War”, which showed the rapper facing his ex-wife and reality TV superstar Kim Kardashian West, her new boyfriend and cast member “Saturday Night Live” from NBC, Pete Davidson, and other celebrities he’s feuded with, including pop stars Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift.

It was a photo taken by Abrenica. He said he did it in minutes using the free photo-editing app Pic Collage, then posted it to the “r/Kanye” fan community on Reddit with a watermark showing the names of Abrenica’s Reddit and Instagram user.

Ye posted the meme amid a torrent of social media activity in recent days, in which the rapper and artist professed his desire to get back together with Kardashian West and his anger towards Davidson. Ye, who has over 14 million Instagram followers, posted multiple fan creations and screenshots of comments left by fans. He also posted screenshots of private text messages from Kardashian West and Davidson, including texts from his ex-wife asking him to stop posting their private conversations. In a text, Kardashian West warned Ye that Davidson was going to be hurt because of his posts.

All posts have since been deleted, but screenshots have spread across the internet.

Many celebrities have attracted devoted and sometimes aggressive online fanbases, and in some cases these groups have gone beyond fandom and turned into harassment. In other cases, celebrities have used their fan bases to silence critics or push their agendas, sometimes also using content created by their fans. It’s a dynamic that can sweep away even well-meaning fans, while fueling others who don’t mind going to extreme lengths to support their favorite celebrities.

“You have this confluence of people’s actions, some of which are not necessarily motivated by malice, some of which are negligent, some of which are just a little thoughtless, and technology rewards engagement,” said Krista Thomason, associate professor of philosophy at Swarthmore College, who has published research on online shame. “When you have something provocative and controversial, it gets more and more engagement and more and more rewards.”

Ye’s willingness to engage fans in his personal feuds has left viewers debating their own role in the saga. Huffington Post Opinion Editor Stephen A. Crockett Jr. wrote that “all the toxicity, the triggering, the gaslighting, and the attention — from the media and from the fans — normalizes toxic and unhealthy behaviors” .

Ye’s actions have already raised concerns. The entertainer has openly stated that he has bipolar disorder and has chosen not to take medication or work with therapists. (On “Eazy,” Ye’s most recent track, he raps, “No more advice, I don’t negotiate with therapists.”)

Psychiatrists and media ethics experts told Insider in July 2020, as Ye unsuccessfully ran for president, that the artist’s outbursts should be contextualized with his mental health, rather than viewed as a media spectacle. . But more than a year later, Ye’s fandom and millions of viewers are tuning in and commenting on her divorce.

A spokesperson for Ye did not respond to a request for comment, but other celebrities argued that his behavior should not be considered entertainment. Actor and activist Jameela Jamil wrote on Instagram that “even famous people when they are clearly going through something with their mental health should be banned when it comes to the internet lols”.

“We are looking at a mentally ill man persuaded by our commitment/media attention,” the English actor wrote. “The consequences of this aggravation/disorder will be that he will lose access to his children.”

For Abrenica, the college freshman who created the “Captain America: Civil War” meme, being part of Ye’s interpersonal feuds was unexpected. When creating the meme, he said he didn’t expect millions of people, including Ye and his family, to see it.

“I posted it on Reddit as a joke, and I never meant to say anything serious,” he said. “I never imagined it would get this big. It still leaves me speechless.”

Abrenica says that Ye is not only his favorite artist, but also his idol and the inspiration for him to pursue design. Abrenica is an architecture student and saw Ye debut new music live. But he said he didn’t agree with the way Ye behaves online now.

“I understand where Kanye is coming from, since he wants to be back with Kim and his kids and everything,” he said. “He’s not doing it the right way. Posting all over Instagram, in all caps, it looks like he’s harassing or threatening.

A since-deleted post on Ye’s Instagram is written from a first-person perspective and reads, “I know sharing screenshots was shocking and found to be harassing Kim. I take responsibility. Shortly after this caption was posted, the posts on Ye’s page reverted to all caps.

Thomason said the line between celebrity “as a person” and celebrity “as an artist” is blurring on social media, where followers are treated to intimate moments from the lives of their favorite celebrities. Fans are encouraged to participate, she said, as social media platforms encourage engagement.

“Social media is a place where we’re going to get attention,” said Thomason, who specializes in moral psychology and social philosophy. “So you do a meme and you’re a 19-year-old kid and ‘Oh my god this celebrity Kanye West reposted my meme, people are liking and commenting, isn’t it amazing?'”

Abrenica said he felt loyal to Ye, but some fans blindly supported the rapper and even took advantage of him.

Zack Routon, a 25-year-old musician who lives in New Jersey, comments on almost all of Ye’s Instagram posts, so much so that his account name “prodbyzaqq” has become notorious within Ye’s fandom. Ye also reposted some of his comments.

“If you’ve been on Kanye’s messages, you can’t miss seeing me,” he said Wednesday.

Ye follows Routon on Instagram, although Routon said the two have never spoken. But Routon said he doesn’t believe Ye takes comments on his posts seriously and doesn’t see himself as allowing the rapper’s behavior.

“Obviously he’s going through something. I wouldn’t be surprised if he promotes ‘Donda 2’,” Routon said, referring to Ye’s upcoming album release. “Really, it’s the smartest thing he can do, in the age of technology.”

Thomason said Routon’s ability to get to the top of Ye’s comments section reflects how social media algorithms play a role in elevating certain positions.

“It’s so easy for people to just watch it from their little corner and not see the big picture,” she said. “The commentator, he doesn’t take it seriously and he kind of imaginatively projects himself into Kanye’s shoes and thinks he doesn’t take it seriously too.”

Thomason also said the push to build engagement on social media platforms has led some social media users to copy what they see from others.

“Especially when you look at people who have been successful in building brands, using these same types of tactics, you can totally see why someone who wants to do the exact same thing would engage in the exact same behavior,” he said. she declared. “Guess what? It works.”

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