Turning Toxic: “Harry Potter”, Fandom, and Facebook
It’s nothing new. Cyberbullies have been around since the Internet became accessible to the masses. We’ve all met those Facebook commenters, Twitter trolls, and chatroom users who feel powerful hiding behind a keyboard, launching personal attacks on complete strangers via the “Enter” key. It’s everywhere, even within a fandom that is centered around a book series that preaches love, friendship, and acceptance. For years now, I’ve been seeing a complete juxtaposition between the kind and caring people I meet at Harry Potter fandom events and the comments that pop up on our articles on the MuggleNet Facebook page. In person, Harry Potter fans are known for their eagerness to discuss and debate the books with anyone who will listen. Online, it becomes less of a discussion and more of a competition to see who can come up with the cruelest way to shoot down a differing opinion. Just scroll through and you’ll see a slew of comments ranging from general rudeness to downright offensive, personal attacks on our writers and other fans.
There’s the harmless, yet irksome, “fandom police.” These are the folks who take it upon themselves to decide who is a real fan and who is not, based on whether other people’s opinions or takeaways from the series align with their own. Those comments usually include some slight about other fans’ lack of reading comprehension, but what they really mean is that their reading of the text is the only “right” interpretation.
Then there are the more serious comments. Through the years, I have been called a “man hater,” for writing a silly article about recasting the series with a gender swap, and an anti-feminist and a bigot for saying I think Dumbledore’s sexuality will be addressed in later films rather than in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. My personal favorite is the Facebook user who took offense to me writing a post about the characters we lost in the Harry Potter series on Memorial Day and commented to tell me I should be “hung or put in front of a firing wall.” When one of our writers published an article questioning J.K. Rowling’s Twitter conduct, one commenter decided this was a good opportunity to accuse someone of being in the KKK. Keep in mind, this is because the writer didn’t like Rowling’s infamous “lonely virgin” tweet. Good enough reason to throw around that type of accusation?
When did we become okay with this type of conduct? When did the fandom become shut off to different opinions, views, and backgrounds? The Harry Potter fandom I know and love is home to the most enthusiastic, kind-hearted, accepting, non-judgmental people I’ve ever met. Can we bring that back, please? Let’s discuss, learn from each other, and “broaden our minds,” not dismiss and remain ignorant of others’ feelings and perceptions of the world and the literature that is our common ground.