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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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, & Society, 16, 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/