Folks who were on Tumblr during its peak often see similarities in the content cycles Twitter and TikTok are going through. One of the content cycles is a content creator receiving a non-credible threat and then getting positively hounded by people begging them to stay safe in the wake of this threat. Where does this panic come from?
Mark, and L.A. Gangs
One of the most famous posts of this type ever was made on Tumblr, warning the popular Youtuber Markiplier (aka Mark Fischbach) that he was in danger from a gang war in L.A., where the first gang to 100 kills gets to take over that part of the city. If you think about that for even a second, it sounds stupid – who decides how the city is partitioned, is it all of L.A., 100 kills is a ton of people, so these chunks would have to be pretty large, etc. You get the picture. It’s impossible to tell if the original user was actually serious, but given Tumblr’s track record and age breakdown at the time, the answer is unfortunately unclear. Other users saw it and immediately began memeing on it, and passing it around, even commenting it on videos and social media that Mark posted.
Charlie D’Amelio and “”Peaches””
Peaches, a very-much-disliked internet personality, threatened to send people to Charlie’s house specifically to assault her. She said she’d already hired someone, and he was on his way. This is absurd for many reasons – a 19-year-old was threatening a 16 year-old, and the 19 year-old didn’t know where Charlie even lived. She was asking the comments section for her address. Of course, nobody feels good when they receive a threat, but a public, spur-of-the-moment threat? From someone like Peaches, who is constantly spamming weirdly explicit and violent things with no followup, ever? It was clearly an intimidation attempt and not much more.
Still, caution was reasonable – Peaches might have finally made a move, after all. However, fans already told her this. And then kept telling her this, constantly, for days after she’d promised ‘someone is on their way’. All of the people screaming at Charlie to be careful in her comment section apparently couldn’t tell that everyone else was also shouting warnings at her, and these comments still litter videos available from last year, 2020. Nothing happened. Peaches was banned from TikTok, but not arrested, because the threat wasn’t credible.
Really, the fans seemed to be a bigger nuisance about the whole ordeal than Peaches actually was.
And When It’s Real
Meg Turney and Gavin Free, two members of a popular production/Let’s Play company known as Rooster Teeth, had their house broken into by someone intending to kill Gavin because they were jealous that he was dating Meg. He had a gun as well as hundreds of notes on the two of them, and he was shot to death upon leaving their house and encountering the police.
What’s interesting about this – and many crazed fan cases – is that he never broadcasted his intent beforehand, at least not anywhere visible to the public. They were caught completely off guard. Christina Grimmie, another Youtuber, was shot to death while signing autographs by someone who went to Florida explicitly to harm her. Did he say anything beforehand? No. Philip DeFranco had a crazed fan break into his house, also without warning. Not every public, loud threat is harmless, but the vast majority of the crazy ones are just barely lucid enough to know that threatening their idol beforehand is going to make actually getting to them difficult. All bite, no bark makes for a very dangerous dog.
Firstly, this isn’t legal advice.
Secondly, most threats made publicly (unless it’s doxxing by Keemstar) against a public personality by another public personality don’t really mean much. It would be a slam dunk in a court case if anything ever happened, and most people understand that. But say you saw a threat on Discord or something. What do you do when the threat seems credible to a normal person? You could go to the police. You could. But the evidence better be pretty compelling: an article by a private company shows the kind of rigor needed to go after someone who made a threat. ‘Credibility’ and ‘Being Specific’ about it are why Peaches didn’t get arrested for threatening Charlie; the threat wasn’t credible.
Often, the best thing an unconnected individual with no real ties to either party can do is simply do their due diligence to alert and then back away. It sounds callous – What if something really happens this time?, You might think – but imagine being on the receiving end of thousands of people telling you that someone promised to kill you, over and over, but also never getting warning for the times that people actually show up to your house. That would suck, right?
For Clout, Not Safety
So why is that exactly what happens?
It’s insidious, and it’s tied into how social media works. If someone catches word of a rumor, the internet encourages them to take that as seriously as possible, no matter what – even if the evidence is shaky. Sometimes they don’t even need real evidence! A bad feeling or repeatedly pulling ‘The Tower’ card in a tarot reading is enough to start some comment panic in certain circles on TikTok.
People shouting about threats in the comment section of that content creator get thousands of likes, so there’s good reason for them to be overly cautious and then “spread the word” on said threat. It’s easy ‘like’ farming. Everyone is in that comment section because they like their creator, and so actions taken to protect the creator are also appreciated, even if they’re overzealous. Other people join in for this reason. Sometimes they actually care – oftentimes, it’s just done because it’s easy points.
It’s also a way of taking action without actually taking action, and it feels good to take action. However, sometimes the worry is genuine – and that’s not good for either party.
Why Panic in The First Place?
A parasocial relationship is a relationship where neither side really knows the other, but they feel like they do. The full implications of social media and parasocial relationships is an entirely different article, but – for most people with healthy attachments – a parasocial relationship with their favorite actor or singer or bakery chef is no problem. A person makes things you like, and you like that person for making those things. Most people don’t feel extremely happy or extremely sad for complete strangers, but some amount of emotion towards strangers is a totally natural thing. You likely have parasocial relationships within your community – you may ‘know’ the barista who works mornings at your favorite coffee shop, or the guy who runs the counter at the hobby store.
Parasocial relationships are natural. That being said, the extent to which social media encourages them and weird behavior around them is not. It turns from a simple parasocial relationship into worship. Now, anyone can spend hours obsessively learning about a particular idol, and other superfans will encourage them to do it in a weird feedback loop where they could never truly love their mutual idol enough.
And the obsession never learns their obsessor’s name. This strange, overprotective hyper-alert from superfans isn’t good for either party. At it’s most extreme, you get cases like Meg’s house break-in, or Miley Cyrus’s house break-in, or Oli London attempting to look like his favorite Korean pop star, or any other number of weird cases.
The long and the short of it is that it’s not healthy to be constantly worried that something will happen to one’s favorite – so don’t panic for them. Or panic-spam in their comments.
https://memedocumentation.tumblr.com/post/166689463830/explained-warn-markiplier-meme (wow, this is so much more user-friendly than KnowYourMeme)