Selena Gomez, Justin and Hailey Bieber. Fans have turned what they perceive as a feud into a full-blown online war, fighting for the celebrity they feel is most in the right on social media and in the comments sections of the stars’ own accounts.
There’s no winner to be found in a toxic situation like this.
Aside from how widespread public drama can negatively affect the actual celebrities fans are talking about, experts say it can harm the mental health of the commenters getting involved too. Here’s what you need to know:
Before Justin Bieber married Hailey Baldwin in 2018, he and Selena Gomez dated on and off for nearly a decade. Most of the drama fans are discussing is based on a handful of small moments and comments involving Gomez, the Biebers, and their respective friends.
The women have said they have no ill will toward each other, but that hasn’t stopped fans from taking sides – Team Selena or Team Hailey – and flooding the opposing star’s comments with hateful remarks about their appearances, personalities and relationships.
Bieber made an appearance last week at the Rolling Loud music festival, during which the singer appeared to walk offstage as the crowd chanted expletives about his wife. His Instagram posts, too, are rife with #freejustin and Team Selena comments.
From a psychological standpoint, feeling that intense support for one celebrity over another can occur because of a phenomenon called “self-conception” – seeing part of yourself in another person and therefore aligning yourself with them.
“When their idol is trolled, they feel personally trolled, causing this surge in defensiveness,” says Smriti Joshi, a licensed clinical psychologist and chief psychologist at mental health app Wysa. “This can be especially difficult for the younger fans who are still discovering their own sense of identity.”
Internet culture has forever changed the way celebrity interactions work. Fans now have direct access to the people they idolize – or hate – and they have the power to drive what can become an unavoidable level of attention to a subject.
“Not only are people sharing their views but these views are supported and amplified by the masses,” Joshi says. “Because of this, whether the view is positive or negative, the users feel justified in their voice as people continuously like, share and join in on these thoughts, almost turning it into a sort of campaign. Then it’s really about winning.”
But winning isn’t possible in a game where victory comes at the hands of tearing another person down.
“Remember that celebrities are not as perfect as they seem to be from the various characters they may be playing and are as much human with their imperfect sides,” Joshi says. They are as vulnerable and may have relationship issues just like anyone has or other life issues as well.”
Seeing drama play out online that brings up negative emotions? Joshi acknowledges that it’s “only natural to feel triggered when you see your favorite person not doing as well as you would if someone attacked one of your friends in the real world.”
But just like with friends in the real world, showing them kindness is far more productive than tearing down their adversary.
Consider these steps before chiming in with online hate:
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