Last week I wrote about a Twitter hashtag that while saddening, was working towards good (the @everydaysexism tag #ShoutingBack). Today, however, I want to talk about a far more worrying one, namely the #CutForBieber tag.
The tag surfaced after January 2nd when Justin Bieber was snapped smoking what looked like marijuana. Online, it was suggested that his fans, the Bielibers, if you will, started the hashtag #CutForBieber. The idea was that if enough fans self-harmed and sent the pictures to him, he would stop smoking weed.
That sounds insane, doesn’t it? Even so, I and many others fell for it until we found it the whole thing had been perpetuated by none other than 4chan, seeking to ‘troll’ Bieber and his fans. The original picture had been one that had been taken from Tumblr, and several dummy accounts were used to spread the word.
What’s worse, when news agencies online began picking up on the story, they published it along with the awful pictures being circulated on Twitter.
This is just one example of trolling gone too far. 4chan have always had a confused idea of what is funny and what’s just plain cruel. At their most innocent, they’ve been inventing Rickrolling and getting founder Moot voted Wired’s sexiest geek 2009. At their most twisted, however, they have replaced YouTube footage with pornographic images and inserted a giant swastika into a children’s computer game, according to the BBC.
4chan and their users, labelled Anonymous, are the misguided pranksters sitting at the back of the class, giggling and calling the other children names and getting upset when they are called out on their behaviour. The obvious problem is that behind an anonymous persona, the restraints of normal society are lifted. There are no limits to what is acceptable behaviour, and the victim is no longer viewed as a human being. They become a kind of punching bag, immune to any real damage inflicted upon them.
The two main victims in this scenario were Justin Bieber himself, and his legion of teenage fans. Yes, Bieber himself. Put yourself in his shoes. Despite being an extremely lucky, privileged pop star, he’s still only an 18-years-old. An 18-year-old who will, many times, make mistakes in his life. Mistakes that for any normal person would be forgotten about eventually, but for him will be documented and dissected in minute detail forever. As a result of a mistake he made this month, he received hundreds of photos of his own fans harming themselves, purportedly because of what he’d done. How, exactly, would you feel in that situation?
And the fans. Fans that are dealing with the upheaval of simply being teenagers. Fans who may well be suffering with mental illnesses that drive them to self-harm. Who knows how many saw these pictures and were triggered by them? I would never suggest that they were inspired to harm themselves by the images, as to imply so would be doing teenagers a great disservice. However, we cannot truly know the damage that has been caused.
And why? So some anonymous ‘prankster’ behind a computer screen can have some chuckles at their expense. It’s schoolyard bullying writ large, no more, no less. There’s no consideration of human decency, or when the joke simply isn’t funny anymore. In 4chan’s case, we all stopped laughing long ago.
Melodramatic? Not a bit. If any of the Anonymous are reading, just remember I put my name to what I do online, because I’m not ashamed or scared of getting found out.
If you are struggling with self-harm, or any other issues that are affecting you, please get in contact with The Samaritans via phone, email, or letter. If you are outside of the UK, you can find the appropriate body to contact here at The Befrienders.
Image via iloveJB123 on Flickr