Goin’ Down in the DM’s (…and everywhere else): How social media has taken fan obsession too far

Back in August, Melbourne photographer and stylist Michelle Pitiris became the target of online vitriol from The 1975‘s fan base, stemming from a simple request for photography credit. Having toured with the UK band on two of their Australian tours, Pitiris, or as known on Instagram as @sheisaphrodite, became a well known name for her official photos for the band.

Photography credit, especially in today’s social media-dominated landscape, has become an issue that’s remained a mainstay within many conversations surrounding artistic and creative ownership in an online world and it was at the centre of the drama the soon kicked off. While Pitiris had a large number of fans and people in her corner, it didn’t stop the ‘grammers from getting in their feelings.

Example of the abusive comments Pitiris received; now removed from Instagram.

“As a creative, it was hard trying to stand my ground,” Pitiris says. “So many people today who use social media, Instagram in particular, don’t know the proper rules of posting; it was draining and frustrating to try and explain to the kids who were attacking and whose excuse for taking my photos and posting them without credit was, ‘That’s how the internet works’. That kind of ignorance is crushing the creative industry.”

“It made me question whether or not it was worth continuing as a photographer,” she admits. “For a moment I felt discouraged and felt I was swimming against the stream. Social media is 100% how I advertise my work and having my work bounced around the internet without credit is so detrimental to me being able to make money from my work. You wouldn’t do that to the band you’re infatuated with and defending, so why are you doing it to me?”

Following support from fellow photographers and other fans, Pitiris has been able to overcome the drama and continues to work and profile some of the country’s best talent – the high quality of work speaking for itself.

Unfortunately this isn’t a new story. Celebrities have become more accessible than ever to fans and as a result, fan obsession has bled into online communication in a very public realm. What makes people think they have the right to abuse, demean or humiliate another person, let alone a public figure, on social media could probably earn theses amount of research yet it’s definitely become a worrying part of the fame cycle.

In 2015, Solange Knowles promptly clapped back at an Instagram user for calling her then-11 year old son ugly. When Robert Pattinson‘s relationship with FKA twigs became public, the latter became the subject of racial abuse from Twilight fans.

We all know what happened to designer Rachel Roy (and by mistake, celebrity chef Rachel Ray) when the BeyHive heard “Sorry” and took to socials – along with a flood of bee emojis on her channels, she and her teenage daughters were called whores (as well as other names).

Only months ago, when Justin Bieber appeared to be in a relationship with Lionel Richie‘s 18 year old daughter Sofia, comments from hurt fans even suggesting Richie should kill herself prompted the singer to delete his Instagram account entirely.

When Nicki Minaj met one of her idols, Lauryn Hill, and posted a video of the encounter on her Instagram, she was called fake and overdramatic for emotionally bowing down to the latter. The comment thread became less about the original post itself and more about the fans and trolls going head to head.


So where does this bizarre sense of infatuation and unfiltered horrible behaviour come from? Who is to blame?

Over-hyped fan delirium is nothing new. A lot of us will remember teen obsessions with bands and actors in the pre-Internet age; where you would have to actually pen letters to them and hope that they would reply. Now, just scroll through Drake‘s Instagram and see the amount of “Damn daddy, fuck me up,” type comments. If you’re game enough to engage, Ryan Reynolds might recognise…


You wouldn’t be able to quickly look up hashtags online to find out where they would be staying, nor would you have access to their private lives in the way we do now. A technological advancement that has closed the gap between fan/idol for sure, but it seems like the opportunity to be flies on the wall and observe candid moments via social media has definitely been taken for granted.

We remember what happened to Britney Spears in 2007. We saw how people treated Amy Winehouse in the public eye as she battled drug and alcohol addiction. Imagine if Instagram or Twitter were around back then?

In an age where everybody with a functioning camera phone can be a paparazzo, the idea of celebrity/music journalism has become less about quality and more about clickbait tabloid fodder and with fans having the idea that their idols in some way belong to them, we forget that these people are humans too. Selfies seem to be more important than actual conversations. Meeting your favourite band or actor is nothing if you don’t have proof of it actually happening first and foremost.

Instagram recently introduced the option to disable comments, notably after Taylor Swift became bombarded after being embroiled in the whole Kim Kardashian/Kanye West “Famous” drama. When Bieber deleted his Instagram after warning his fanbase against abusing Richie, his fans took it personally as if they were being unnecessarily punished.

If we’re willing to operate at a level where this type of behaviour is not only becoming the norm, but is accepted, then we not only deserve to be called out, but shut out too.



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