FANDOM SPOTLIGHT: SPN Anti-Bullying
Welcome to our first Fandom Spotlight article! This series is part of our IndieGoGo campaign to bring you better coverage at San Diego Comic-Con. The first person to claim a Fandom Spotlight did so anonymously, and asked that we put the Spotlight on the SPN Anti-Bullying project. As we’re huge supporters of the account and frequently give them a Follow Friday on Twitter, we were very happy to do so!
We reached out to SPN Anti-Bullying and chatted with them about how they started, what their goals are, and how you can help with their mission. Geekiary contributor Emily Rose is the founder and a moderator of SPN Anti-Bullying, and was surprised and honored that an anonymous contributor chose to bring attention to the campaign.
Why did you start SPN Anti-Bullying?
The Supernatural fandom is passionate, to say the least. Most of the time, that’s a great thing: people create art, write fic, compose videos, offer meta and commentary, and generally make Supernatural a thriving online presence. I didn’t really see the flip side of that passion until I joined Twitter and Tumblr.
Because the creators and cast have such a strong Twitter presence, fandom has been drawn there to interact. I wasn’t on Twitter long before I saw people using hate speech when talking to other fans, telling people to kill themselves for different opinions, and sending terrible comments to the stars and their families, to the writers, and to the crew. The behavior was rampant online, but I saw a defeated attitude about it: people just accepted that as part of the fandom culture because they couldn’t do anything about it. We wanted to find a way to let people stand up to it, so I researched online bullying prevention and solutions, and came up with methods that followed the suggestions of law enforcement, government, and experts.
Originally when I started out, I approached people from different fandom factions to keep an eye out for hate tagged to individual celebrities: I had a Minion watching Misha’s timeline, a Mooseketeer I asked to watch for hate on Jared’s timeline, a Dean!Girl looking for hate on Jensen’s timeline, and people involved in helping keep an eye out for hate tagged to the writers. The plan was to address the behaviors, but leave everything anonymous. I saw people who engaged in tagged hate daily using screencaps to prove hate against their favorites, but not address the hate on their own timelines. Bullies were hiding behind the anonymity. SPN Anti-Bullying, as it is now, really began in November 2013, when we began posting “Sock Blocks” of users who engaged in repeated bullying, and encouraged people to report tagged hate to us, thus handing the power over entirely to the fandom.
How many people run it behind the scenes and why do they choose to remain mostly anonymous?
There are 9 people to some extent involved behind-the-scenes, but SPNAB is really composed of the 225 people who have pledged to be anti-bullying in the Supernatural fandom, and the over 1,700 people who follow the account; without them, nothing would be possible. It takes a group effort to shut down even a single account.
Of the nine current mods, I’m the only one publicly known, and not by my own choice. The fear from the start, because the mods come from various corners of fandom, was that anyone being ‘outed’ would be targeted by rival fans or by the more extreme members of their own groups, and that’s exactly what happened to me. One person whom I’d approached to keep an eye out for hate sent to Jared early on in SPNAB, and one fellow shipmate who knew of my role in the group, both retaliated against me as an individual after the SPNAB community Twitter publicly requested instances of tagged hate and threats to stop.
Needless to say, putting the mods out on a hook as individuals for bullies makes the already grueling chore of wading through hate harder, and increases the risk of retaliatory behavior like what I went through.
What do you define as “bullying” and how do you address it?
SPN Anti-Bullying addresses hate tagged towards the cast and crew of Supernatural. That isn’t to say we police criticism; we think it’s important that people be allowed to have and express their opinions, positive or negative. We step in when it involves repeated instances of personal attacks, threats, hate speech, and slurs: basically, when it crosses the line. These kinds of tweets aren’t just rude, they’re actually against the Twitter Rules, meaning that fans taking action against them can actually result in closing the bullying account. Even in instances where the account stays open, the idea is that by encouraging people to block bully accounts, they’re ensuring their fandom experience stays fun for them: it incapacitates the bully by taking away their pulpit and their ability to hurt other fans.
When someone tags hate three or more times, we send a warning and a request for them to stop. If that is dismissed or the behavior continues, we issue a Sock Block. The Sock Block is a notice to our followers encouraging them to block and report the bully account. We jump right to an alert when people make threats of violence or send encouragement to self-harm. So far, that’s worked remarkably well. Of the 42 accounts we’ve engaged as a community, 39 of them are either closed, suspended, or abandoned.
How can other fans help you further your goals?
Twitter has recently instituted anti-harassment policies that allow users to report hate and bullying sent to someone else’s account. Because of highly publicized situations involving hazing of celebrities (such as the disgusting hate sent to Robin Williams’ daughter after his death and Anita Sarkeesian during Gamer Gate), Twitter has publicly acknowledged that they “suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform, and we’ve sucked at it for years.” So they’re going to be rolling out new methods of dealing with online bullying.
We ask that our followers and anyone else in the SPN Family that is tired of the hate use these tools to help shut down the bullying accounts that, while small in number, do a lot to tarnish our interactions with the cast and crew, and to sow discord among fans. If you see hate sent to a member of the cast and crew, or tagged onto a public ‘shared’ hashtag such as the show tag, you can contact us on Twitter and Tumblr or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Send direct links to the tweets in question and screencaps whenever possible, and we will keep your report anonymous. By essentially crowdsourcing alerts (asking people to send in tips to us), we’re able to get many more people involved in addressing the bullying problem in the fandom. It lets everyone have a part in reclaiming the fandom, spreading awareness, and stopping hate. We need that help from all factions of the fandom in order to keep hate from spreading.
How can fans confront bullying on their own outside of your project?
The best thing that fans can do to help shut down bullying is to not ignore it, to not enable it, and to not encourage it. While reasonable and polite critique is acceptable, don’t say online something that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face, and realize that behind each of the usernames you see, whether you agree with their views or not, is a person.
If you see someone being attacked, send them support and let them know they’re not alone. If it’s another fan, let them know what they can do to report harassment to Twitter, and help them know it’s not their fault, and that they’re not obligated to accept hate as part of their online experience. By reporting when you block someone for bullying, it helps make you and other fans safer.
Don’t be a bystander. Bystanders encourage bullies by acting as a passive presence, giving them the audience they crave. By following, retweeting, and engaging online bullies, you validate their behavior and encourage them to continue being hurtful towards others. Often it’s just speaking out and intervening, that shuts down bullying: bullies rely on the silence of their victims and of everyone else around them, in order to keep going. Speak up!
We’re happy Emily had a chance to talk about her project and we support the work that she does. Thank you to the anonymous donor who wanted to bring her project to light. Thanks for all the work you and your team do, Emily!
Stephanie “Angel” Wilson is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and has essays published in Fandom Frontlines.
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