POLICING "FAKE" FEMININITY: ANGER AND ACCUSATION IN INFLUENCER "HATEBLOG" COMMUNITIES

  • Brooke Erin Duffy Cornell University, United States of America
  • Kate Miltner University of Edinburgh
  • Amanda Wahlstedt Columbia University
Keywords: online hate, gender, influencers, authenticity, anti-fandom, social media

Abstract

While social media influencers are held up in the popular imagination as savvy and self-enterprising  cultural  tastemakers,  their  requisite  career  visibility  opens  them  up  to intensified  public  scrutiny  and,  in  some  cases,  networked  hate  and  harassment. Key repositories  of  such  critique  are  influencer  “hateblogs,”community-oriented  sites  that seem  to  blur  the  boundaries  between  critique  and  cyber-bullying. Crucially,  the  term “hateblog” is more closely related to the colloquialism “hater” than to the more formal designation of hate speech; “hateblogs” thus provide a space for audience-participants to mock  and critique  their targets  for  stated  purposes  of  amusement  and  satisfaction (Miltner, 2017). As such, the activities of hatebloggers can be situated in the wider context of media anti-fandom (e.g., Click, 2019; Gray, 2005; Harman & Jones, 2013; Marwick, 2013; McRae, 2017).

Amid the pervasive culture of social media fame, hateblogs have emerged as especially vibrant—and vitriolic—sites for communities of anti-fans to collectively police the activities of highly visible Instagrammers, YouTubers, and the like. It is perhaps not surprising, given the inhospitable treatment of women in digital public spaces (Sobieraj, 2018), that hateblogs overwhelmingly target women and other marginalized groups. Yet, in contrast to the much-publicized hate campaigns waged by male-dominated communities (e.g., the targeting of Leslie Jones by the Gamergate community), sites like Get Off My Internets (GOMI), GossipGuru, and tatlelife are  predominantly  administered  and  populated  by women. As such, conventional frameworks of misogyny (e.g., Banet-Weiser, 2018) don’t aptly explain their underlying power dynamics.

Instead, the gender-coded nature of hateblogs likens their content to feminized gossip, which  has  historically functioned  to  define  societal  norms through  shared  intimacy (Meyers, 2010). To this end, Forbes’ (in)famously identified GOMI one of the “Best Sites for  Women  in  2013,” dubbing  it “the  antidote  to  Mommy  blogs...[with] endless commentary, criticism and gossip on a web of lifestyle, fashion and mommy bloggers (Casserly,  2013). To  critics,  however,  hateblogs  are  venues  for  those  with  “crazy obsession[s]”  (Gross  and  Chen,  2012) to  engage  in  online  abuse  and cyber-bullying, which can exact a profound toll on targets (van Syckle, 2016).

These totalizing perspectives articulate different aspects of—and perspectives on—the hateblog phenomenon; yet they fail to fully acknowledge their cultural ambivalence within a fraught moment of socially mediated feminine self-enterprise. Indeed, we contend that both the “crazy obsession” of hateblogging participants and the gossipy normativity of the blogs themselves are in service of the same ends, namely to critique the perpetuation of unattainable norms of feminine success in the digital economy. Here we invoke Gray (2005), who suggests that anti-fandom is “a mode of engagement with text and medium that focuses heavily on the moral and the emotional, seeking in some ways to police the public and textual spheres” (p. 841). Hateblogs, we argue, can be understood as “moral texts”  (Gray,  2005)  that  provide  insight  into  contemporary anxieties  about fame, femininity, and careerism.

This project analyzes “hateblog” anti-fan community Get Off My Internets (GOMI) which targets women  social  media  personalities  almost  exclusively. GOMI  was selected because of the size of its community as well as its dominance within the hateblog space. We qualitatively analyzed 150 hateblog posts (also known as “snarks”) across GOMI’s site. Snarks were drawn from 10 forums: five focused on fashion and beauty influencers and their  respective  brands,  while  the  remaining  five  were  dedicated  to  lifestyle influencers, whose brand often spanned fashion, travel, design, fitness, etc. These forums were chosen based on their popularity on GOMI, defined by the number of unique snarks each forum contained. This ranged from 3,394 to 861 unique comments in each thread.

The  critiques  of  influencers  that  circulate  on  hateblogs,  while  numerous,  center  on influencers’ perceived duplicity or “fakery'' in regards to their career, relationships, and personal appearance. Together, these accusations cast specific influencers as deceitful, avaricious, and lazy charlatans who unfairly profit off of ersatz performances of perfection. As moral discourses, these critiques aim at scrutinizing and dismantling the tropes of entrepreneurial femininity (Duffy and Hund, 2015). More broadly, we argue that the anger expressed through hateblogging may be understood as a form of displaced feminine rage. Indeed, while such expressions may be deployed in discussions of individual influencers and  their  performances  of  specific  feminine  ideals,  it  is ostensibly rooted  in  broader sociocultural critiques connected to gendered expectations relating to authenticity, labor, and privilege. In other words, the influencers who are targeted by hateblogs act as stand-ins  for  structural  critiques  of  seemingly  “new”  venues  for  women’s  employment  that reproduce problematic, limiting ideals of femininity, domestic life, and the possibility of “having it all.”

But while hatebloggers’ purport to disillusion us by exposing the artifice of social media, their expressions do little for progressive gender politics, enacted as they are as a form of horizontal misogyny (McKenna et al., 2003) that can cause genuine distress among its creator-targets. We thus conclude by highlighting the limitations of this expressive act—one  that seeks to  liberate  women  from  gendered  constraints  while  simultaneously engaging in gendered forms of symbolic violence.

References

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Casserly, M. (2013). The 100 Best Websites For Women, 2013. Forbes. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/meghancasserly/2013/08/20/the-100-best-websites-for-women-2013/#5fcf5e8057c8

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Grose, J.and Chen, A. (2012). The terrible, fascinating world of hate blogs. The Awl. https://www.theawl.com/2012/10/the-terrible-fascinating-world-of-hate-blogs/

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McKenna, B. G., Smith, N. A., Poole, S. J., & Coverdale, J. H. (2003). Horizontal violence: experiences of registered nurses in their first year of practice. Journal of advanced nursing,42(1), 90-96.

McRae, S. (2017). “Get Off My Internets”: How Anti-Fans Deconstruct Lifestyle Bloggers’ Authenticity Work. Persona Studies, 3(1), 13-27

Meyers, E. A. "Women, gossip, and celebrity online: celebrity gossip blogs as feminized popular culture." Cupcakes, pinterest and ladyporn: feminized popular culture in the early twenty-first century(2015): 71-92

Miltner, K. (2017). "Is Hateblogging Harassment? Examining the Boundaries of Online Antagonism". International Communication Association, 68th Annual Conference. San Diego, CA. June2017.

Sobieraj, S. (2018). Bitch, slut, skank, cunt: Patterned resistance to women’s visibility in digital publics. Information, Communication & Society, 21(11), 1700-1714.

Van Syckle, K. (2016, January 21 ). 'It put me on antidepressants': welcome to GOMI, the cruel site for female snark. The Guardian.https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jan/21/gomi-blog-internet-comments-women

 

Published
2020-10-05
How to Cite
Duffy, B. E., Miltner, K., & Wahlstedt, A. (2020). POLICING "FAKE" FEMININITY: ANGER AND ACCUSATION IN INFLUENCER "HATEBLOG" COMMUNITIES. AoIR Selected Papers of Internet Research, 2020. https://doi.org/10.5210/spir.v2020i0.11204
Section
Papers D