Fandoms & Twitter

Fandoms have existed for several decades, so what makes fandoms today any different? A simple answer to that question is social media, but more specifically Twitter. The self proclaimed “window to the world” (Twitter About) is the perfect place to share 140 characters worth of thoughts to anyone, anywhere. Created in 2006, Twitter has become a popular way to keep tabs on what’s happening around you. It’s an innovation that has changed the way fandoms and friends interact.

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Say anything you want in 140 characters or less!

Want to check out the news? Head over to @CNN. Want to see what your friends are doing? Head over to your timeline and see what they’re tweeting about. Want to download your favorite band’s new album? Check out their profile to find a link to download. You can see what people are doing all over the world with a few simple taps on a screen and you can create your own profile – an icon, header, display name, and handle – to start connecting with friends, celebrities, and companies all across the globe.

 

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The Today Show’s full Twitter profile – encompassing a handle, display name, header, and icon.

Twitter was originally created as a way to stay updated on what your friends were doing through an SMS-based platform instead of having to directly text (MacArthur). As more and more users joined, an entire new language formed and the use of twitter changed. Three large innovations to the social media site were user-inspired. Users would use an @ sign to direct a comment to another user, which Twitter then created an @ symbol to be a direct link to a user; the same occurred with a hashtag (MacArthur). Thirdly, users would add “RT” to the beginning of a copied tweet from another user to signal credit to the original ‘post-er’ which eventually lead to the creation of the simple retweet button (MacArthur).

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A study conducted by Highfield, Harrington, and Bruns in 2013 found that Twitter users use Twitter primarily to express their thoughts regarding any given fandom. Twitter allows users to immediately connect and share their thoughts with other people who have similar interests. This past week the One Direction fandom celebrated #6YearsSinceNiallsAudition, “Aw’d” at a new baby picture of Louis’ son, and shared their feelings on Liam’s new girlfriend. Each of these events could have never occurred in the days of the Barry Manilow mail-correspondance fan clubs.

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In honor of Niall Horan’s 6th year anniversary of auditioning for the X Factor, fan’s retweeted his old tweet.

The hashtag celebrating the anniversary of Niall’s audition connected thousands of fans together. The ability to see any tweet that includes the hashtag enables more interaction among fandom members. Even if you don’t follow someone, a simple hashtag connects you to other people tweeting about a topic you’re interested in. Louis shared his baby’s picture to his millions of followers, something that could have never happened prior to Twitter. If a celebrity wanted to share a picture just 20 years ago, they would have had to get it on television or in a magazine which could take up to weeks to publish. Chat about Liam’s new girlfriend was sparked up by a magazine. Similar to pre-Twitter days, fans discovered news through a media outlet, except now they took it to Twitter to discuss their feelings with their followers.

 

As of February 10, 2016, there were 320 million people that used Twitter according to Craig Smith’s statistics, and 3.17 billion internet users worldwide (comScore). According to the diffusion curve, any new user would be considered an early adopter, with about 10% of the internet-using population being on Twitter. While Twitter is still on the rise, there is an overwhelming 11.7 million Twitter users between the ages of 18-24 (Adweek). Twitter has become successful among young adults who are a part of a fandom because it is one of the easiest ways to connect with other fans through hashtags and retweets. If you follow one member of your fandom and they retweet another account from the same fandom, you can slowly build an entire fandom-concentrated Twitter account.

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Twitter unfortunately isn’t prone to negatives. Many times fandoms face the difficulty of falsified accounts claiming to be a reputable source, with almost no way to disprove them. Many times throughout the Justin Bieber, Fifth Harmony and One Direction fandoms, accounts will sprout up publishing rumors about the artists. In addition, with the quick pass on of news through ‘word-of-mouth’ there can easily be a spread of negative comments. The openness and availability of Twitter also enables hate and harmful messages to be sent easily. You can send an insult to any celebrity, or even someone you know.

 

Luckily, the positives of Twitter outweigh the negatives. Twitter connects people from around the world and allows friendships to be built across the country and world. Twitter has been so successful among teens in fandoms because it lets you meet people you wouldn’t typically be able to meet otherwise. By sharing a common interest, it’s so easy to start a friendship talking about something you both love. Twitter has saved the life of a fangirl in the One Direction fandom. A young girl by the name of Taylor was live tweeting about her suicide attempt. She tweeted about finding an entire bottle of pills and proceeded to share about taking the whole bottle. One thing led to another and soon her tweets were retweeted thousands of times with the #PrayForTaylor trending worldwide. Some of her friends had seen the trend and contacted her family. Luckily she was saved, but all because of her friends in her fandom and Twitter!

 

Sources:

Adweek. (n.d.). Number of Twitter users in the United States as of January 2015, by age group (in millions). In Statista – The Statistics Portal. Retrieved April 16, 2016, from http://www.statista.com/statistics/398152/us-twitter-user-age-groups/.

comScore. (n.d.). Number of internet users in selected countries as of May 2015 (in millions). InStatista – The Statistics Portal. Retrieved April 16, 2016, from http://www.statista.com/statistics/271411/number-of-internet-users-in-selected-countries/.

Highfield, T., Harrington, S., & Bruns, A. (2013). Twitter as a technology for audiencing and fandom: The #Eurovision phenomenon. Information, Communication, & Society16, 315-339.

MacArthur, A. (2014, December 16). The History of Twitter You Didn’t Know. Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://twitter.about.com/od/Twitter-Basics/a/The-Real-History-Of-Twitter-In-Brief.htm

Smith, C. (2016, April 1). 170 Amazing Twitter Statistics. Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/march-2013-by-the-numbers-a-few-amazing-twitter-stats/

Twitter About. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2016, from https://about.twitter.com/

 

 

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Technology’s Role in Fandoms

When you think of fandoms today, one of the first few thoughts you think of probably have something to do with the internet, social media, fangirls, or all of the above, but this wasn’t always the case. As many Barry Manilow fans know, the technology of choice to actively participate in a fandom was through writing letters. There was a ‘mail fan club’ where fans could write letters to each other and discuss Barry or even their own lives. Just like fandom members then, many aficionados today turn to Twitter or Tumblr to meet fans where they stay in touch about their favorite musician or connect through personal conversations.

Before all of the present day technology, fans would join fan clubs online where they could receive pre-sale opportunities, a letter from the artist, or a signed photocopy of a photograph for a small fee. While fan clubs still exist today, Twitter has the capacity to directly connect fans to bands. Rather than getting a well thought out letter written by an assistant, fans can now get messages directly addressed to them from a band member, and can connect on a more personal level.

 

 

 

Just over a decade ago on February 9, 2005, Yahoo! Music launched its internet radio, streaming audio, and music videos online for the first time. They offered features from artists and relevant news about the media. Now fans can access any music, any video, anytime through this service.

 

 

Just six days after Yahoo! Music launched, the infamous YouTube activated its webpage for the first time. A year later, Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion, but this was just the start. In May 2007, YouTube launched a program that enabled people to be paid for popular, viral content. The more views meant more money. In April of 2009, Justin Bieber introduced himself to the world by revealing how Usher discovered him on YouTube. This was the start of mainstream YouTube.

 

YouTube has also had a huge impact in the existence of modern day fandoms. For sports teams it means they can relive the unbelievably lucky goal their favorite player scored, or a UConn basketball fan can boast about the incredible plays the women’s team had. YouTube has also created its own fandom. Commonly known as ‘YouTubers,’ average people have become stars because of this website. Christopher Cayari describes YouTube as:

“An art medium; a technology which allows listeners to become singers, watchers to become actors and consumers to become producers creating new original works and supplementing existing ones.  It allows everyone to have a voice that can be heard and face that can be seen” (Cayari, 2011, p. 24).

YouTube has blurred the lines of fans and figures. YouTubers like Tyler Oakley prides himself on being a “professional fangirl” of One Direction, Ellen DeGeneres, Darren Criss from Glee, and Taco Bell. Prior to the blurred lines of fan versus influencer, to view a music video, or re-watch a play in last nights’ game required tuning into MTV or ESPN. The difference was that you had to wait for the content creators of these channels to bring the videos to you. Now, with the click of a few buttons, you can have that play in HD right in front of you on your laptop.

 

 

As expected, with this new surge of technology there have been a shift in the norms of belonging to a fandom. Many teenage girls who fall under the fangirl category of a boy band often find themselves being teased. Casey Fiesler notices this and documented that “such public displays of mockery have become more common in fandom in recent years” (Fiesler, 2008, p.750). The reality is that “Fandoms are extremely close-knit communities, and members protect themselves by operating under a specific set of self-regulating guidelines – their own social norms” (Fiesler, 2008, p. 745). Members of a given fandom will protect each other and themselves from outsiders. They form cliques and come to the aid of any member in need. The use of social media has directly helped fans bond and stick together, regardless of what others think.

 

Sources:

Bruno, Antony (February 9, 2005). “Launch Becomes Yahoo! Music”. Billboardbiz.com. Billboard. Retrieved March 10, 2016.

Cayari, C.  (2011).  The YouTube effect: how YouTube has provided new ways to consume, create, and share music.  International Journal of Education & The Arts, 12(6), 1-28.

Dickey, M. R. (2013, February 15). The 22 Key Turning Points In The History Of YouTube. Retrieved March 10, 2016, from http://www.businessinsider.com/key-turning-points-history-of-youtube-2013-2?op=1

Fandom’s the Same, Technology Improved. (2013, June 14). Retrieved March 10, 2016, from https://versusthefans.com/2013/06/14/fandoms-the-sametechnology-improved/

Fiesler, C. (2008). Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Fandom: How Existing Social Norms Can Help Shape the Next Generation of User-Generated Content. Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law, 10(3), 729–762.

 

 

Fandoms Before Twitter

Before technology, fandoms for TV shows, bands, musicians, books, etc. were very different than they are today. Fandom’s have always been a part of our culture. From the Beatles to Sherlock Holmes to Harry Potter to The Walking Dead to One Direction, people simply enjoy sharing common interests. One of the easiest ways to do that is to connect through social media. Tweeting or reblogging pictures on tumblr is one of the most common ways to get involved with fandoms today. But, before the internet, fandoms existed and fans interacted with each other, so how?

In the late 1960s, Star Trek fans, “Trekkies,” started to pave the way for fandoms as we know them today. Joan Marie Verba wrote a book titled Boldly Writing: A Trekker Fan and Zine History 1967-1987, where she outlines the events the fandom experienced together. She details several ‘fanzines’ that the most dedicated fans wrote and sold to other fans. As Star Trek became more popular, fanzines became professionally printed and several authors contributed to the articles. Verba described how as soon as one fanzine decided to stop publishing, another would start up, almost as if it were filling the void.

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Ruth Berman’s popular fanzine T-Negative from May 1973

Following the ideas from the 1930s of David Kyle and Frederik Pohl, the sci-fi Trekkies decided to start hosting conventions in 1972. With the first being in New York City, fans from all over came together to talk about their shared love for Star Trek. In the final issue of one of the popular fanzines called “Deck 6,” author Carol Pruitt wrote about the 1972 convention saying, “That ST does indeed have quite a following was amply demonstrated by what became known to fannish history as he first annual Star Trek con. The 3,000 attendance makes the STCon the largest convention ever held.”   From 1972 on, Star Trek conventions became an annual ordeal throughout the US. Fans paid admission fees to be able to discuss their common passion. Fanzines continued to be published and several became extremely popular and successful. As the movies were created, conventions started hosting actors and directors and writers to increase the popularity of the Star Trek fandom.

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A Poster advertising the first Star Trek convention in New York City in 1972

Another very popular time for fandoms was during Beatlemania. The Beatles fans were the first to score a term from the media for their intense admiration. The stereotypical Beatles fan is thought of as a screaming teenage girl because of the extreme attention the media placed on this craze. Similar to today’s boyband fans, teenage girls were mocked and viewed in a negative manner. Similar to the Star Trek fandom, in 1996 there was a Beatles fan convention in Liverpool where the male to female ratio was almost 1:1. Ages and nationalities varied, yet screaming teenage girls were strongly associated with the band.

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Soviet fans showing their love for The Beatles

In 1964 in an essay in the New Statesman, Paul Johnson wrote,

“Those who flock ‘round the Beatles, who scream themselves into hysteria, whose vacant faces flicker over the TV screen, are the least fortunate of their generation, the dull, the idle, the failures.”

All throughout the media Beatles fans were being slammed for their dedication. It became a norm to sit outside hotels and music venues to wait to catch a glimpse, yet these fans were being torn apart for their dedication. Fans gathered to chat about their ‘favorite’ or the latest album or TV performance. They connected with each other through this band, but once they left the hotel or venue, they rarely saw one another again.

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Fans screaming and waiting outside the Delmonico Hotel hoping to catch a glimpse of the Beatles

The Beatles fans were not the only ones who were represented as primarily screaming teenage girls. I came across a quote from Daniel Cavicchi, who is a music scholar and a member of the Bruce Springsteen fandom, who said in his book Tramps Like Us: Music and Meaning Among Springsteen Fans:

“I am concerned about views of music fandom promoted by media critics and cultural studies scholars which seem to have little to do with my own experience. Many media critics consider fans abnormal or dangerous; however, I have found that my fandom for various musical performers has instead gotten me through many tough times over the years and has been the source of many friendships, including my relationship with my wife” (Cavicchi 8).

The media played a role in the portrayal of fandoms to the rest of the world and often times ignored males’ role in fandoms. It was consistently about the crazed girls running around screaming. The media focused on the actions of the girls rather than what they got out of it – friendships and happiness.

 

Sources:
Astley, J. (2006). Why Don’t We Do it in The Road?: The Beatles Phenomenon. United Kingdom: The Company of Writers.
Beatles fans – World Museum, Liverpool museums. (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2016, from http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/wml/exhibitions/thebeatgoeson/thebeatgoesonline/global/beatles/fans.aspx.
Cavicchi, D. (1998). Tramps Like Us: Music & Meaning Among Springsteen Fans. New York: Oxford University Press.
Lynskey, D. (2013, September 28). Beatlemania: ‘the screamers’ and other tales of fandom. Retrieved February 11, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/sep/29/beatlemania-screamers-fandom-teenagers-hysteria.
 Pohl, F. (1979). The way the future was: A memoir. Ballantine Del Rey.
Verba, J. M. (1996). Boldly Writing: A Trekker Fan and Zine History 1967-1987 (Second ed.). Minnetonka, MN: FTL Publications. Retrieved from http://www.ftlpublications.com/bwebook.pdf