Hailey Bieber Asks Selena Gomez for Help With Death Threats As Stan Culture Loses the Plot
The snippets of what we see on social media aren’t real life; neither are our imagined relationships with stars. I am begging the stans to realize this.Celebrities
On Friday morning, I woke up to a string of texts telling me to check Selena Gomez’s Instagram story. There, I found a simple note from Gomez to her 400 million followers: “Hailey Bieber reached out to me and let me know that she has been receiving death threats and such hateful negativity,” it said. “This isn’t what I stand for. No one should have to experience hate or bullying. I’ve always advocated for kindness and really want this to all stop.” Some social media accounts reported that Gomez then followed Bieber on Instagram, too.
By the afternoon, Bieber responded with an Instagram story thanking Gomez, noting that the two have “been discussing the last two weeks how to move past this ongoing narrative,” and suggesting that all of the alleged conflict between her and Gomez had been “taken out of context or construed differently than intended.” She added, “We all need to be more thoughtful about what we post and what we say, including myself.”
It’s an interesting turn of events after a weeks-long social media craze sparked by perceived “shade” thrown by Bieber (and Kylie Jenner) at Gomez early last month. The overwhelmingly pro-Gomez masses’ reaction to said shade started out with funny memes and old tweets lightly roasting Bieber—only to ultimately devolve into a public stoning on TikTok. If you interacted with a single video regarding the drama, within minutes, your feed transformed into an endless stream of content vilifying Bieber. Her crimes, TikTok declared, ranged from stealing Gomez’s entire life to having familial ties to Vladimir Putin (which she does not).
In short, fairly benign mockery between possible frenemies got out of hand alarmingly quick, and entirely unnecessarily. The whole thing is just sad. I’m not sad for Hailey, per se—though she definitely doesn’t deserve the harassment campaign she’s faced. I’m sad about what this entire fiasco says about our culture and, in particular, how our increasingly digitized world has convinced so many people that they truly know Gomez (or Bieber or Jenner or any of their peers) to the extent that they believe Gomez—whose net worth sits at $95 million—needs a keyboard army to rescue her from Justin Bieber’s Instagram influencer wife.
Yet, none of this is particularly surprising. It’s the natural conclusion of stan culture, of intense parasocial relationships with celebrities. Constant social media users—many of whom are young and/or don’t have the digital literacy to discern real life from the algorithm, or real relationships from parasocial ones—will tell strangers to die because of some perceived beef between that stranger and some other stranger. This problem, of course, isn’t limited to Gomez and Bieber’s fans; more generally, fandom, delusion, and social media have rendered pretty much anyone who criticizes a beloved artist or public person a sitting duck for coordinated harassment campaigns.
Hating on public figures—especially women—isn’t new. (We all remember the misogynist tabloid headlines of the 2000s.) But social media has made everything 10 times weirder, 10 times faster. And it’s not a coincidence that it’s nearly always women who become the targets of the algorithm: Sometimes it’s for accusing a male public figure of abuse, but more often than not, it’s for something as relatively inconsequential as (potentially) poking fun at another celebrity. At least one report has shown how companies like YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, and other platforms profit off of viral hate targeting women.
Look, I get Selena Gomez’s appeal: An entire generation grew up watching her shows, streaming her music, and you can certainly have an emotional attachment to someone who’s been in your life for this long. Beiber, as a pretty run-of-the-mill influencer blessed with a famous family and close friendships with the KarJenners, doesn’t have the same mass appeal—but you shouldn’t have to hold mass appeal to not be harassed into oblivion on the internet.
Unlike a decent amount of her fans—or at least those chronically online Hailey Bieber haters—I like Selena but also understand that none of this is fucking real. I do not know Gomez, or Bieber, or any other celebrity on my phone screen. The snippets of what we see on social media aren’t real life; neither are our imagined relationships with stars. I am begging the stans to realize this.