Discourse: Eliminating Toxicity

Since I started becoming more involved with the K-Pop fandom in the past year – I’m noticing a major difference in how fans interact with the groups and each other, and I feel the need to talk about it.

So, a little background on me, first off. I’m an older fan. To be more clear, I’m in my mid to late 40s. I’ve been involved in many fandoms and passions over the span of my life, from New Kids on the Block in the 80s, to LARPing in the 90s, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, LiveJournal, the Hiddleston/Cumberbatch days of Tumblr, and most recently K-Pop today. I’ve been in assorted local fan groups, ran a couple of them, and volunteered for many fan-run sci-fi and comic cons since I was in my 20s. This is not to brag about my experience, nor to say I am “better” than anyone else. This is simply to make those reading this understand that I have been involved in fan communities for a long time through my life. In other words, the K-Pop fandom is not my first rodeo, LOL.

The singular thing I love about every fandom I have been involved in over the span of my life has been COMMUNITY. Finding the others around you who love the same things you do, and connecting through that common passion. Whether it’s locally by seeing someone wearing a t-shirt of your favorite band, meeting others at a panel at a convention, or finding message boards or social media groups online – those connections are the biggest thing I love about fandoms. Connection and community. I started volunteering and working for conventions because being a part of all those people coming together, embracing the things they love together, brings me so much joy. Humans have always been stronger together, fandoms even more so.

Now, that’s not to say that those gatherings are perfect. We all know there are toxic, awful people involved in every type of group, and ESPECIALLY fan communities. This is nothing new. A lot of people complain about how being online has brought out the worst in people…and to a small degree, that’s true. We cannot place that ALL on being online, though. There have always been nasty and sometimes evil people in fannish communities. If you look at the history of fan-run conventions, there are some really ugly situations and people there. Whether that’s a worldwide convention, or a small local event…there’s always someone who has ulterior motives. Those ulterior motives can range from being hungry for power and validation, theft, or much worse. Some of the time, the group polices its own, and the perpetrator is removed from the group and punished. (Yes, I am painfully aware this is not always the case.)

Online communities changed this dynamic, of course. A lot of time it’s for the better – even more fans coming together, new fans coming into the fold and supporting their faves, the collective excitement and joy when something new comes out, talking, meeting, and making friends all over the world. I’ve made some lifetime friends online, and have visited so many places to see them. An online fandom community is just as valid as a personal meetup in your town, and COVID cemented that in place even more. However, with more people in a group, the chances of having more of the problematic people – the predators, the narcissists, the drama bombs – increases. It’s also easier to hide that behavior through a screen. Add in the penchant for people to be more bold and flat-out rude online…and here we stand today.

Up until now, I’ve been content with just supporting my favorite K-Pop groups however I could – buying albums, listening to music on Spotify, squeeing about them online with friends. I decided to go a little farther into the fandom with the ATEEZ comeback, and dip my toes into the world of streaming through Korean music sites and online voting to help the group win music shows and chart higher. There are many groups and people who mobilize all around the world to do this when a group releases a comeback album. You may have seen multiple tweets or posts about getting a group to chart on Bugs, Genie, or Melon; or to push voting to get a group to win on one of the assorted music shows in South Korea, such as Inkigayo, The Show, or Music Bank. Streaming on Korean music services can also help affect wins on the shows, and most definitely affect charting, not only in Korea but worldwide. YouTube and Spotify streams in the US count towards Billboard charts, along with album sales.

I signed up to be part of a group to stream on Bugs, a popular South Korean music site. I figured it would be fun to be part of this – and it was! The night the comeback dropped, I stayed up until midnight and got to see the video when it came out, and set up my Bugs streaming playlist and other things. So many people all over the world were online, excited and happy to see the video for Bouncy and start working together to make this comeback the best one for ATEEZ yet! It was great! The group I was with mostly communicated via group chat, and there was a good variance of newbies to streaming like me, along with others who’ve done this more than a few times.

However, not even 48 hours after streaming started, I started seeing things popping up on Twitter that made me nervous. Some fans were spamming others, yelling at them about how they weren’t doing enough, fussing that people needed to buy more physical copies of the album, berating people who weren’t speaking out publicly about voting and running the apps. I saw more than a few tweets on my For You page (which, honestly, is the WORST) of some fans just laying into others with both barrels of hatred and anger, accusing them of not being a “real fan”, and spamming some of the larger accounts with comment after comment of how they weren’t doing the best for the group and if they weren’t going to post about voting and streaming, to just shut down or stay quiet.

It even affected me. I started wondering if I was doing enough, wondering if I needed to do more, buy more, pay more. Of course, I turned to the group I was in, asking them about what they thought, and they all agreed that behavior was totally uncalled for and not what the majority of fans, streamers, and voters believed. The fact that other new streamers were feeling the same way made me feel a little better, so I just kept doing what I was doing, determined to enjoy the new music and the content that was coming out.

As time went on, though, those voices became louder and more prominent. I saw tweets of friends who felt like they weren’t doing enough, that the joy was gone, that this was a slog and they just didn’t even want to log on to Twitter anymore because of the nasty tweets that people were posting. I heard that some older fans, those who have been with ATEEZ since their pre-debut days, were being run off of socials because they were being harassed by these toxic individuals. I even had a few people who I followed, who I thought were pretty cool and chill, jump on to the spamming bandwagon.

And then when the same people started flinging accusations that ALL Ktinys – Korean ATINYs – weren’t doing anything to benefit the group, that they were all just selfish and only in it for the freebies so they could turn around and sell them to international fans? Yeah, I don’t play with that. I’m sure that there are some “fans” who are like that, of course – yet another kind of toxic fan – but ALL Korean fans? I don’t believe that for a second. And to say that all non-Korean ATINY never did those sorts of things? Patently untrue.

It’s over two weeks now since the new album dropped, and ATEEZ has wrapped up their primary comeback activities, but the majority of fun and excitement I felt at the beginning of the release is no longer there. Instead, I find myself actively avoiding the ATINY side of Twitter, simply because I don’t feel like seeing infighting, drama, accusations, or people going inactive because they’ve been run off by what is essentially a HANDFUL of loud, obnoxious, and toxic fans.

And to be blunt – I’m fucking sick of it.

As I stated above, this is not my first fandom rodeo. I was a very heavy LiveJournal user, I moved to Tumblr when I really sank my teeth into the Loki/Hiddleston fandom, and I’ve been on Twitter since 2007 as an active user. So when I say I am TIRED of what is a small group of obnoxious fans ruining these communities that people have built up for ages, simply by being LOUD…I’m dead-ass serious. Good people, friendly people, people who want to bring others together – they are being run off in droves by what is essentially toddlers having temper tantrums and bullying others.

And the kicker is – there’s ALWAYS more of us than there are of them. Good fans, caring fans, fans who are in it for the long haul and support not only our groups and favorites BUT each other? We could become more organized. We could shut them down. We could shut them out. We could point the fingers, name and shame, show the world that we are BETTER than these individuals. We could show the world that we are together in solidarity to stop behavior like this. It’s just a matter of organizing and sticking up for each other when the awful ones start shouting.

We’ve all heard it from others, about how “K-Pop fans are crazy”. We’ve heard people talk about us, saying how we’re a toxic group, how all we do is fight and bully and shame others who aren’t into the groups we’re into. We’ve heard how we’re delusional, how we all have major issues with parasocial relationships, how K-Pop is our entire personalities and we’re all unhealthy nerds who just hole up in our rooms.

First off…how dare I call myself out like this. (OK, sorry, I had to make that joke.)

Sure, a lot of us may be those things. But a LOT of us – more than people know – are adults, with full time jobs, relationships, lives. A lot of us are fighting personal battles day in and day out and the little joys that we get from this music gets us through our days. A lot of us are creative powerhouses, creating AMAZING art, comics, stories, full-on novels. A lot of us are community organizers, bringing people together in love of one common thing, supporting people all over the world that we’ve never met in real life, helping and loving one another, doing good things, all united because we like that one thing, one group, one character.

I see the positive side of fandom. That community, that strength, that LOVE – it’s all there, in droves.

I say we don’t let the negatives define us. Let’s work on getting rid of those negative stereotypes defined by a small group of people who want nothing more than attention. Let’s focus on building those communities and growing for good together. Let’s focus on lifting one another up, instead of breaking people down. And most important – let’s pull together to DRIVE THESE TOXIC FANS OUT.

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