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Hatewatching vs. Harassment: Interrogating the Boundaries of Antagonistic Behaviors in Online Contexts

Sun, May 28, 15:30 to 16:45, Hilton San Diego Bayfront, Floor: 2, Indigo Ballroom A

Abstract

In July 2008, the cover of Wired Magazine featured a brunette woman with the headline “Get Internet Famous! (Even If You’re Nobody)”. The woman was Julia Allison, one of the internet’s first “microcelebrities” and, at one point, the third most hated person on the internet (Golson, 2008). Allison is a complicated figure whose behavior and life choices have inspired a fair amount of critique, but few have been as aggressively critical as the participants on Reblogging Donk (RBD), an online community and so-called “hateblog” devoted to chronicling and critiquing Allison’s life choices and missteps.

A “hateblog” is a blog whose main purpose is to mock and critique its targets for the amusement and satisfaction of its audience. Allison has described the discursive activities of RBD and its community as “cyberbullying”, and has claimed that she has suffered greatly as a result of their activities. The RBD community members, on the other hand, frame Allison’s highly public (and self-publicized) antics as “an unbelievable online reality show” and their discussion and dissection of her life as the same “hatewatching” practices that are widespread amongst online communities focused on gossip and reality TV.

This paper uses Reblogging Donk as a case study for examining the often murky boundaries of online harassment. While RBD may seem like a straightforward case of online cruelty and victimization to some, such a claim is complicated by the fact that RBD engages in many of the same “anti-fan” behaviors that are commonplace in many online fandoms (Marwick, 2013). As Harman and Jones (2013) have documented, “hatereading” and “hatewatching” are mainstream and commonplace practices; examined through this lens, RBD’s activities aren’t the obsessive dissection of an innocent private citizen (as Allison would have it), but a community that has been brought together through legitimate critique of a public personality and her often questionable behavior. The case of RBD highlights the difficulty in drawing distinctive boundaries between different forms of antagonism in online environments, particularly when culturally prevalent behaviors are legitimized and encouraged in one context and vilified in another.

References

Golson, J. (2008, April 9). “Julia Allison is more hated than that Marine who threw a puppy off a cliff”. Gawker. http://gawker.com/377769/julia-allison-is-more-hated-than-that-marine-who-threw-a-puppy-off-a-cliff

Harman, S., & Jones, B. (2013). Fifty shades of ghey: Snark fandom and the figure of the anti-fan. Sexualities, 16(8), 951-968.

Marwick, A. E. (2013). Status update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age. Yale University Press.

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