What do we do about toxic fandom?

I’m proud to be a geek. If people give me a window of opportunity, I’ll gladly talk about Star Wars, Star Trek, superhero films, Doctor Who, etc. for hours. I’ve made a lot of new friends through the geek community, both in person and online, and it’s cool to find people who share a passion for the same franchises, films, and TV shows that I do.

However, there have been a few times when I’ve felt bad about being part of a fandom. I had a moment like that this week, when I heard that actress Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Rose Tico in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” had deleted all her Instagram posts after months of being harassed online.

Fans had some pretty strong reactions to “The Last Jedi,” both positive and negative. Although I liked Rose and thought her place in the story made sense, some fans didn’t care for the character. Unfortunately, some of them decided to go online and harass the actress directly.

I actually saw some of this behavior firsthand, a few months ago when Mark Hamill decided to say “happy birthday” to Kelly Marie Tran on Facebook. It wasn’t anything major, just a nice little “happy birthday” post for an actress he enjoyed working with. However, the comments on this post were beyond cringe-worthy. Some fans took this as an opportunity to share just how much they hated Rose’s character in “The Last Jedi”; the venom and anger shocked me, and, frankly, broke my heart. There’s a time and place for criticizing films, characters, performances, etc., but posting nasty comments on a birthday post seemed in poor taste.

I know I’m probably preaching to the choir here — the ESO fan group is a great group of people who aren’t the sort of fans who would go online and send death threats to actors, directors, etc. just because they didn’t like a film. Unfortunately, these kinds of fans ARE out there, though, and they have the potential to make all of us look bad. Sadly, sometimes negative voices get heard the most, and I would hate to think that people like Kelly Marie Tran feel the majority of Star Wars fans behave like this.

Even though these mean-spirited people are a minority, I don’t think we can necessarily afford to ignore this toxicity within the fandom. On the other hand, I’m not exactly sure how we fix it. Anytime we see someone post an over-the-top, hateful, sexist, and/or racist comment, do we call them out on it? Or is that simply “feeding the trolls” and egging them on? I’ve always wondered if the kind of fans that harass performers like Kelly Marie Tran are themselves damaged and/or hurting, and they lash out as a way to deflect their own pain.

The frustrating thing about this toxicity is that it drowns out deeper discussions between fans, where people can respectfully state why they did or didn’t like a particular film or TV show. It’s one thing to say you didn’t care for a director’s choices, or the casting of a particular role. It’s another to go online and try to hurt a filmmaker or actor, who at the end of the day are regular humans, just like us.

So, do we post positive content to drown out some of the mean-spiritedness? Does that even make a difference? Maybe I’m a stubborn idealist, but I think it does. I searched “Kelly Marie Tran” on Twitter this morning, afraid of what I would find, but was pleasantly surprised by an outpouring of love, warmth, and support. I think that messages of kindness like this DO matter. I retweeted some of the nice messages; I’d encourage you to do the same.

Like I said before, I don’t know that I have a solution to this issue right now, but as geeks and fans of entertainment, we have to start talking about this. Let’s make sure that the geek community remains a safe and welcoming place for all — including fans, creators, and performers.

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