M the replies are meaningful and thoughtout, like those that thank the boys for their music and dedication, but others seem to be on auto-pilot, like the ones that simply say “follow me” or “come to Brazil” or—a more recent trend—“DADDY.” It’s easy to question whether or not these fans are even thinking much before they act, posting everything from emotional outbursts to sexual fantasies to contrived conspiracy theories on every social media platform out there any time one of the boys so much as breathes. What many seemingly fail to consider is that these reactions do not go unnoticed. News flash: celebrities are real people that we are interacting with, not just entities to fantasize about for our own amusement. You are not tweeting to the void, and you are not tweeting to your best friend—you are tweeting at a person who has no idea who you are. “There’s this huge disconnect between the way One Direction fans perceive the boys and the way they actually are,” says Ali Reitzel, a junior at Emerson College and One Direction fan from 2011 to 2014. “You don’t actually know anything about them, you just think you do. And because you think you do, you fall in love with your idea of them. And it’s not real, at all.” Fans of One Direction—and other celebrities—are massively supportive and caring, and Twitter, Tumblr, and other EM
social media platforms have amplified that in the best way possible. But some of these fans also claim ownership of the boys, inventing their own ideas about who they are and what their personal lives are like, twisting public scandals to fit the narratives they’ve created, and forcing these narratives onto celebrities they have never met. Some fans even go so far as to act on their extreme jealousy toward their favorite celebrities’ significant others, sending them nasty messages and death threats—which is only made easier by social media. I’ve been part of the One Direction fandom since nearly the beginning, and I can say from firsthand experience that it is great. The beauty of fandom is that it provides a niche group of people someone to talk to and relate to; some of the best friendships are forged out of shared interest in a band, TV show, film, book series, or the meaning behind Harry Styles’ tattoos. Twitter and Tumblr have facilitated these ever-present communities—but they have also made it easier for things to get out of control. If you like One Direction, feel free to tweet their song lyrics with abandon, reblog as many pictures of them on Tumblr as you wish, and write as much fanfiction as your heart desires. But don’t do any of this without remembering that they are real people with lives outside of how you see them. And please, please, don’t @ them.
THERE IS NO TAMING THE BEAST THAT IS THE ONE DIRECTION FANDOM.
arch 25, 2015 is a day that will forever go down in history. The world was shaken, Twitter erupted, and fangirls everywhere were reduced to tears. Within minutes, all anyone could talk about was Zayn Malik’s departure from One Direction. The boy band released the news on Facebook and Twitter, prompting outrage, panic, and heartbreak from every corner of the Internet. A quick Twitter search returned thousands of tweets, pictures, and videos—mostly by teenage girls—of fans who were crying over the news, even while sitting through classes. Even Boston Mayor Marty Walsh had something to say: “@choll12 We are all devastated about Zayn Malik but we must soldier on #ASKMJW” —Mayor Marty Walsh (@ marty_walsh) I remember this day with near-perfect clarity. I had been in class all morning and didn’t hear the news until I got back to my dorm and checked Twitter. By the time I figured out what happened, everyone on my timeline was either in mourning or mocking those who were. One Direction fans quickly took sides—some were supportive of Zayn’s decision and wished him the best, while others were angry with him and thought he owed it to his fans to stay with the band, despite being unhappy. All of this played out across social media platforms
for days while I, an on-again-off-again moderate fan since 2011, watched. As was made evident that day, social media platforms like Twitter and Tumblr are the heart of massive fandoms like the “Directioners.” No longer does fandom only exist at concerts, where hoards of fans can come together to dance and scream in tandem for one night only—now, fandom lives on the internet, where it exists 24/7, everywhere at once. This accessibility has played a major role in building franchises like One Direction, which has more followers on Twitter than most. The One Direction fandom, which has grown from a small group of people watching X-Factor to millions of people all over the world, is the band’s biggest strength. Knowing this, their team uses social media to their advantage by communicating with fans through Twitter and Instagram, garnering YouTube views on music videos, and eliciting votes for award shows like MTV’s Teen Choice Awards. Their attempt at controlling the fans to work to their advantage has been mostly futile, however—there is no taming the beast that is the One Direction fandom. On Twitter, a single tweet from either the official One Direction account (@ OneDirection) or any of the members’ accounts can receive thousands of replies and retweets, showing how present the fandom is at all times. Sometimes
WORDS / JILLIAN MEEHAN, COLLAGE / BRADEN BOCHNER