By Andrew Garas
Currently, Twitter has 330 million users on its platform. What I find most interesting is the way its users have turned pockets of the site into their own personal spaces to bond over common interests. I’ve seen the sports side of Twitter, the film side, and pretty much everything in-between. Celebrities, popular musicians, movies, and the like have always existed, and so have the fans and super-fans of those properties – but with the easily accessible nature of Twitter and other platforms, we have seen the birth of “stan culture” – the new way for young people to express their identity, but not without adverse side effects.
What are stans?
Stan, still considered slang, is defined by Merriam-Webster as “an extremely or excessively enthusiastic and devoted fan”.
When thinking of “stan culture” – most people’s minds go straight to rabid K-Pop fans, or Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters – but just about every moderately popular musician, actor, or actress, now has a budding stan community online. For young people, I think their interests often shape their most formative years. As someone obsessed with emo and punk music in high school, it was easy to feel jaded when my peers weren’t interested in the same things. Having online communities, however, was what gave me my sense of identity and helped me make friends and connect to other people.
Social Media Identity in Culture
A study done in 2018 by Computers in Human Behavior showed that users with self-esteem issues don’t feel ok with presenting the true versions of themselves on social media. Instead, they use “strategic self-presentation” to alter their authentic identity and increase their “subjective well-being” by gaining more likes and comments. With the popularity of new apps like Facetune that allow users to easily edit photos of themselves with skin-smoothing and reshaping features, body image and self-esteem issues have been widely discussed in the era of new media, especially for young people.
It’s not hard to see why with rising insecurities in the era of social media, separate stan accounts have taken off. Most stans on Twitter or other platforms keep their profile completely anonymous, using screen names and profile pictures based on their interest, rather than of themselves. This makes these accounts more low-stake, with the singular intent of sharing your fandom with others.
As stated in the chapter “Social Networks, Profiles, and Networked Identities” in Miller’s Understanding Digital Culture, he discusses the inherent differences between running a simple personal diary vs an online journal, intended to be seen by an audience. These online relationships are more constructed than authentic. He argues we have “multiple selves” – based on our different profiles. For a stan account, their online persona based around a fandom is just a different perception of themselves, meant to be perceived by only a specific audience (fellow fans).
Adverse Effects; Death Threats, Herd Mentality, and Obsession
As we know, stans are already the top of a group of fans – the most devoted and passionate. With its echo chamber effect, we have unfortunately seen some of the negative implications of young people very dedicated to something not knowing where the line is. I’m sure there are some studies on herd mentality, but in my opinion, being surrounded by only people with only like-minded and very intense views can make finding someone with a dissenting opinion even more upsetting. This is why we have seen some groups of stans take the roles of mobs, constantly defending and spamming (in sometimes violent ways), their favorite property under dissenting opinions. I have seen some nuance lost in these takes and it turns into an obsession rather than a fandom.
Being a stan is most appealing to a younger crowd, and it’s not hard to see why. As I grew older, I realized I grew out of fanaticism over celebrity. I never owned a stan account, despite flirting with the idea many times as well as following many to keep tabs on my favorite artists. I understand why being a “stan” is so common for young people nowadays and I do think it’s a positive to have these spaces to discuss more obscure interests. I’m glad that young people find their identity through fandom, as I certainly did in one way or another. But I also think it’s important to take a step back and examine your own personal identity, and make sure it’s not clashing too hard with the artist that you “stan”.