Words: Chloe Latham
From a young age, our parents told us to never talk to strangers on the internet. They warned us that if we told them about ourselves, they would come and find us and potentially try and kill us. Okay, so that might be a tad dramatic, but you know what I mean. Essentially, we were told that it would be bad news. They instilled a fear of ‘stranger danger’ and made it clear that we should never meet with anyone from the online world, let alone make friends with them. However, with no two days in the 21st century ever the same, it’s near enough impossible to ignore the possibility of friendships forming online.
Friendships today, especially in the wake of the COVID pandemic are more important than ever before. We’ve spent eighteen months separated from those that we love, and the only way we’ve stayed connected is via the power of the internet. The nature of fandom is community and friendship. It’s a group of people, with shared interests and experiences, coming together to discuss a subject they’re passionate about. From all over the world, people are able to connect in a way that fans of the Beatles and Bay City Rollers could never have imagined.
The impact of these social interactions is already very visible. When talking to Directioners about their experiences in the fandom, Issy Aldridge found that the majority mentioned their online friendships as one of the defining factors. “Being part of my fandom as an adolescent defined my developmental years,” one respondent wrote. “Being part of that community and being highly involved [in a social setting] on social media was something that was very special to me, and I look back on those times fondly.”
An ‘internet best friend’, as many of these online connections are known, is a common phenomenon across many social media platforms. Fans often find comfort in making friends who support the same idols that they do. After all, they have spent periods of time being scrutinised and picked upon for their interests as young women. History has shown us that. Granted, there are some situations where you hear stories of catfishing (which you must report instantly, FYI). But for the most part, the internet can be a place to meet lifelong friends.
You never know, you may become closer to them than you are with someone you’ve known your whole life. Having friendships is extremely important for leading a healthy, happy life. We all know that. And friendship knows no boundaries.
I speak from experience in saying that I have made some wonderful friendships with people from around the world. Whether they be from Italy, Australia or even the USA, I hope to one day travel the world and meet them all. I will forever be thankful for them and praise the internet for bringing me the most important people in my life.
Fandoms and their friendships can be hard to understand if you’re not a part of their day to day life. A ‘normal’ person who has never interacted with anyone on social media before has never created a bond such as one created in fandoms. They’re unable to comprehend how fans feel or act, only because it is foreign to them. However, this doesn’t give anyone the right to judge or make fun of them.
As an outsider to the fandom world, the general public may call the fans different names. Tags such as ‘crazy’, ‘pathetic’ or ‘silly’ are ones that many fans are familiar with, all because they invest their love, time and money into a celebrity that may never know of their existence. But the bottom line is this. The celebrity that your son, daughter, or sister is supporting, maybe one of the reasons they are alive today.
Having a love run deep for someone you have never met before can be so special, but also very draining. Unfortunately, we have to look at it from different perspectives. Our parents and elderly relatives will probably not quite understand how why we support our idols so much. But that is absolutely fine.
A true friend will support, encourage and accept us for who we are regardless of menial details. They bring fulfilment into our lives and have no previous expectations that we have to fulfil. I couldn’t ask for better people around, even though the majority of our friendships are through texting and facetime. Just knowing that they are there is enough (for now!) I don’t blame our parents for instilling this sense of cautiousness into us when online. The internet can be a scary and upsetting place sometimes if you get yourself into situations you wish you weren’t part of. On the flip side, it can bring opportunities, connections and friends if you choose to go and look for them.
We as fans hold the internet in high esteem, our lives enriched by its activity and behaviour. We can communicate with others, make friends, learn more about the world and also, in that same vein, change it. This is something not many people believe they are able to do, but we have the power. Don’t be scared and take control, amazing things will happen. We are lucky to be in this world at this time with influential people who use their voices for good. You can be like that too. Take the leap and make some virtual friends. We promise you won’t regret it.
Now we’re not saying go out onto the internet and arrange to meet up with every person you come into contact with. That’d be firstly, quite irresponsible of us, and secondly, a very long list of people. We are however saying, keep an open mind. You never know, you might just meet your next best friend.
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